NEW ORLEANS, LA (WAFB) - Southern beat Grambling 52-45 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Saturday in the 41st Annual Bayou Classic. Southern leads the series 21-20.
Rivals Southern (8-3, 8-1 SWAC) and Grambling (7-5, 7-2 SWAC) played an absolutely classic Bayou Classic on Saturday, setting the mark for most points ever in the series.
"Whoo, first of all, it was probably, will go down as one of the greatest Classics ever," said head coach Dawson Odums. "Man, I tell you, it was interesting. It was a lot of peaks and valleys, but whichever team was able to control its emotions and play to the end."
Although it was a beautiful fall afternoon in south Louisiana, the traditional rivalry is played on the turf of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. It was a memorable day for Baton Rouge natives Chad Germany of Capitol High and Lenard Tillery of McKinley High.
Southern freshman quarterback Austin Howard started the game smoking, with three touchdown passes in the first 30 minutes. The first went to junior wide receiver Willie Quinn in the corner of the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown and a 7-0 Southern lead. The Jaguars went back up top later in the quarter, but this time to senior wide receiver Mike Jones, who simply ran away from the coverage for the 45-yard touchdown to make it 14-0. Earlier in the week, Grambling head coach Broderick Fobbs had expressed concern about Southern's speed at wide receiver.
The Tigers finally got on the scoreboard with running back Cedric Skinner taking it into the end zone from two yards out, to cut Southern's lead cut in half to 14-7. On the Grambling kickoff, the ball hit the turf, took a funny bounce and Brian McCain couldn't hold on to it. The turnover gave the Tigers a field goal try and Marc Orozco drills it through for the 39-yarder to make it a four-point game at 14-10 with the Jaguars clinging onto the lead.
Howard then went back to Quinn, and why not, when the little guy is such a playmaker. He first dodged three tackles and then put several on the ground like bowling pins. It's resulted in a 30-yard pickup and 15 more yards were tacked on for the shove out of bounds. Grambling's defenders were clearly frustrated with the speed of Southern's skill position players. From there, Howard pitched it to Tillery and he found the end zone from two yards out for a 21-10 Southern advantage. During the game, Tillery passed the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the season, the first Jaguar to do so since 2003. A Greg Pittman field goal later made it 24-10 in favor of Southern.
"Three weeks ago, four weeks ago, everybody was already talking about Bayou Classic and they had a bye-week," said Tillery. "We let people know, 'Hey, this is the game. This isn't just another game that we're playing. This is the Classic of all Classics. And, it's also the game to the get to the championship.' So, it was a very emotional win. Saw a lot of people crying. We're happy for the seniors. We got it up in the locker room. Now, we're just about to celebrate and tomorrow get ready for Alcorn."
Johnathan Williams tried to get one back for the Tigers, but Doug Williams' son was picked off on a great diving interception by Dionte McDuffy. Germany and company tried to capitalize on the momentum shift immediately, calling another deep ball for Jones and sure enough, Howard delivered the perfect strike. The long toss gave Jones a 55-yard touchdown to go with his earlier 45-yarder for 100 yards in the first half. The touchdown put the Jaguars up 31-10, still in the first half. However, Grambling would not quit in this high-scoring rivalry. Williams found wide receiver Verlon Hunter for the 5-yard touchdown along the boundary and that cut the Southern lead to 31-17 going into halftime.
On the opening drive of the second half, Tillery ran for a 52-yard touchdown to extend Southern's lead to 38-17. Tillery finished with 168 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries, as the Jags dominated on the ground. Ka'Jandre Domino from Scotlandville then scored on a 99-yard kickoff return and Grambling to make it 38-24. After a Dionte Shorts touchdown and another Grambling score, it was 45-31. It was 45-38 when Jaleel Richardson returned a kickoff 79 yards for another Southern touchdown to make it 52-38 in favor of the Jaguars in the fourth quarter.
Williams later found Chester Rogers wide open for a 76-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to just seven points at 52-45. Grambling then recovered the ball on an on-side kick and Williams went right down to the goal line, but was stopped just inches short of the touchdown. With clock winding down, the Tigers lined up for a quarterback sneak. They had a timeout left, but couldn't get the play stopped in time to use it, as the highest scoring Bayou Classic in history ended with a dramatic defensive goal line stand to give the Jaguars the victory and a trip back to Houston to defend their SWAC Championship.
"We knew it was going to be a tough one coming into the Classic," said senior fullback Brian McCain. "They were going to give us their best shot. That's exactly what they did. We found a way to pull through and our defense made a goal line stand."
Howard finished 14-of-23 passing for 258 yards and three touchdowns. He did throw one interception. The Jaguars used a fairly balanced attack, as they gained 226 yards on the ground. Grambling was all about the pass in the game. Williams was 33-of-64 for 450 yards and four touchdowns. He also threw an interception. The Tigers had only 61 yards rushing.
After such a rocky start to this season, who would have thought the Jaguars would have a second straight shot at a SWAC title?
"We've been through a lot and we know how to face adversity," said senior defensive tackle Arthur Miley.
"It's ironic that this season is just like last year," Odums said.
The coach is correct. The two seasons are similar in quite a few ways. It took a last-second defensive stand to win the West on Saturday, just like it did to win in Houston last December.
"It was going through my head, 'Here we go again,' and we got the stop then and we got the stop now, so hopefully, if we get in that situation again, we can get the stop again," Miley added.
"At that point, on the 1-yard line, it's just will and want to. It's just guts, integrity. How bad do you want it?" McCain explained.
"We set our defense to try to push them back and Gabriel Echols, he did a great job of just stuffing the center and that really gave us an opportunity to hold them short," Odums added.
Howard continued to shine like he's done all season long. His three touchdown passes in the Bayou Classic were enough to earn him MVP honors. But, how about his wide receivers, especially Mike Jones, who has dealt with injury for most of the season? He saved his biggest performance for the Jaguars' biggest game.
"It just happened to be this was my game to break out," Jones said. "I knew it was coming. It was only a matter of time. I had faith and I just waited for my time."
"He's fast! He's a track guy. So, he forces you to back up and if you don't, he has the ability to run by you," Odums stated.
There is no denying the poise and leadership Howard has displayed on the biggest of stages to keep his team in a position to win.
"I always tell him, 'Hey, you're not just a freshman. You're the quarterback,'" said offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Chad Germany. "And, he's bought into it from day one and just shows up every day and gives everything he's got and I'm just excited for him."
"He's got a chance to do something that hasn't been done in a long time - be a freshman to have a chance to win a championship. He's outstanding. I think when you look at his numbers, they're right up there with anybody else who's playing well," Odums explained.
The Jags will have to play their best yet again to get revenge on Alcorn State next week in the championship.
Grambling QB Johnathan Williams throws a 76-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Chester Rogers - Southern 52, Grambling 45 (4th Qtr)
Southern KR Jaleel Richardson returns kickoff 79 yards for a touchdown - Southern 52, Grambling 38 (4th Qtr)
Grambling QB Johnathan Williams throws a 14-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Verlon Hunter - Southern 45, Grambling 38 (4th Qtr)
Grambling QB Johnathan Williams throws a 3-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Brandon Byrdsong - Southern 45, Grambling 31 (3rd Qtr)
Southern QB Deonte Shorts runs for 4-yard touchdown - Southern 45, Grambling 24 (3rd Qtr)
Grambling WR/KR Ka'Jandre Domino returns kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown - Southern 38, Grambling 24 (3rd Qtr)
Southern RB Lenard Tillery scores on a 52-yard touchdown run - Southern 38, Grambling 17 (3rd Qtr)
Grambling QB Johnathan Williams throws a 5-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Verlon Hunter - Southern 31, Grambling 17 (2nd Qtr)
Southern QB Austin Howard throws a 55-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Mike Jones - Southern 31, Grambling 10 (2nd Qtr)
Southern K Greg Pittman makes 20-yard field goal - Southern 24, Grambling 10 (2nd Qtr)
Southern RB Lenard Tillery scores on a 2-yard touchdown run - Southern 21, Grambling 10 (2nd Qtr)
Grambling K Mark Orozco makes 39-yard field goal - Southern 14, Grambling 10 (2nd Qtr)
Grambling RB Cedric Skinner scores on 2-yard touchdown run - Southern 14, Grambling 7 (2nd Qtr)
Southern QB Austin Howard throws a 45-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Mike Jones - Southern 14, Grambling 0 (1st Qtr)
Southern QB Austin Howard throws a 13-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Willie Quinn - Southern 7, Grambling 0 (1st Qtr)