NEW ORLEANS, La. | Two long pass plays in the third quarter proved to be the difference as Grambling State University nearly rallied from an 18-point deficit to the Southern Jaguars. As it was, the Tigers saw their season come to an end with a 38-28 loss to the Jaguars in the 45th Annual Bayou Classic in a Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) game on Saturday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
With the victory, Southern earns the SWAC West Division Championship and will meet Alcorn State in the 2018 SWAC Football Championship Game in Lorman, Miss.
“My hat goes off to Coach (Dawson) Odums and his staff for an outstanding job they’ve done,” Grambling State head coach Broderick Fobbs said. “I’m so proud of my kids. You’re not going to always execute, but to see their heart in fighting back and got us back into the ballgame, that is the thing I enjoy most. A lot of teams would have quit and a lot of teams would have given up when you’re down 31-13, but those guys fought back. We have been dethroned, but the way we fought back tonight, these guys have the heart of champions.”
The Tigers (6-5 overall, 4-3 SWAC) went three-and-out on their first offensive possession. On the ensuing punt, Garrett Urban’s kick was blocked by Kordell Caldwell and recovered in the endzone to give the Jaguars a quick 7-0 lead with 13:04 remaining in the opening quarter.
Grambling State was forced to punt on its next possession as Southern marched down the field. The Jaguars’ drive ended when Joseph McWilliams blocked a 42-yard Martell Fontenot field goal attempt to keep Southern’s advantage at 7-0.
The Tigers were backed up to their 5-yard line to start their third offensive series. Grambling State marched 95 yards in 10 plays as Geremy Hickbottom scrambled out of the pocket and found Darrell Clark in the back of the endzone for a 30-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 7-7 with 48 seconds left in the first quarter.
Southern (7-3, 6-1) broke the tie after a Grambling State punt as Cesar Barajas booted a 47-yard field goal to give the Jaguars a 10-7 advantage with 8:48 left in the first half.
Grambling State was forced to punt on its next possession and Southern got the ball at the Tigers 43-yard line. Seven plays later, Ladarius Skelton connected with Trey Smith for a 23-yard touchdown to give the Jaguars a 17-7 lead with 2:47 remaining in the second quarter.
The Tigers responded on their next possession as Garrett Urban hit a career-long 44-yard field goal right before halftime to cut into Southern’s lead.
The Jaguars got the ball to start the second half and drove to the Grambling State’s 7-yard line, but Skelton fumbled on first down and the ball was picked up by La’Allan Clark, who raced 84 yards to set up a first down inside the 10. Despite the great field position, the Tigers had to settle for a 21-yard Urban field goal. That got them within 17-13 with 10:27 remaining in the third.
Southern answered right back with Skelton connecting with Kendall Catalon for an 80-yard touchdown pass on a third-and-23 play to give the Jaguars a 24-13 advantage with 8:30 left in the quarter. Southern then took advantage of a turnover on downs and marched 65 yards in four plays with Skelton connecting with Randall Menard for a 44-yard touchdown to extend the Jaguars’ lead to 31-13 with 3:22 remaining in the third period.
Southern capitalized and marched 65 yards in four plays as Skelton connected with Randall Menard over the top to extend the lead to 31-13 with 3:22 remaining in the third quarter.
Grambling State answered the Southern scoring drive and went 75 yards in 12 plays as Hickbottom scored on a 4-yard keeper. The two-point conversation pass from Hickbottom to Quintin Guice was successful as the Tigers trimmed the gap to 31-21, with 12:30 left in the fourth quarter.
On the very next offensive series, Skelton fumbled the football and the Tigers capitalized. Just four plays after the turnover, Hickbottom went into the endzone untouched to cut the Jaguars’ lead to 31-28 with 11:07 remaining. However, the Jaguars put the game away on their next series with a seven play, 65-yard drive as Devon Benn scored on a 2-yard touchdown run to push the margin to 38-28 with 7:51 left.
With the momentum swinging toward Grambling State early in the third quarter, it would be a long completion that would be the turning point.
The Tigers cut the deficit to 17-13 and the Jaguars got the ball on their next offensive possession at their own 33. On first down, Ladarius Skelton was sacked for seven yards by Donald Freeman. Benn was tackled in the backfield by Johnkill Skipper on second down.
A penalty moved the ball back to the Jaguars’ 20-yard line. Set up for a third-and-23 from its own 20, Skelton found a streaking Kendall Catalon over the top for 80 yards to give Southern a 24-13 lead with 8:30 left in the quarter.
The Tigers on their next possession moved the ball into Southern territory and failed to convert on fourth down, turning the ball over on downs.
Southern capitalized and marched 65 yards in four plays as Skelton connected with Randall Menard over the top for a 44-yard touchdown to extend the lead to 31-13 with 3:22 remaining in the third quarter.
Grambling State closed the 18-point gap to 31-28 with just under 11 minutes left, but could not overcome the big margin.