JACKSON, Miss. – In a tale of two halves, the Grambling State Tigers remained undefeated in SWAC play with a 30-20 victory over Jackson State University before 14,501 fans at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium.
From the game’s opening drive, Grambling State’s offensive unit set the stage early on as the Tigers used an 11-play, 77-yard drive that was capped by freshman Cornelius Walker’s two-yard run for an early 7-0 advantage. After the early score, Jackson State relied on the big play and shifted the game’s momentum when wide receiver Chris Johnson broke free for a 71-yard touchdown. Eric Perri’s extra point glided through the uprights after the score and tied the contest at 7-all.
With the JSU crowd back in the contest, Grambling’s Reginald Jackson was on the verge of silencing the home crowd after breaking free for a 48-yard kickoff return to JSU’s 49. Unfortunately, Jackson fumbled the ball in the middle of the field and JSU recovered with great field position at their own 49.
On JSU’s opening play of its ensuing drive, quarterback Jimmy Oliver struck again with another big play as he found wideout Jaymar Johnson on a 42-yard pass to GSU’s 9. However, the Tiger defense buckled up and got out of the drive with minimal damage as Jackson State only managed to walk away with a 25-yard field goal by Perri at the 5:30 mark in the first quarter.
JSU’s defense forced GSU to punt on its next offensive possession but a fumble by JSU’s Jaymar Johnson breathed new life into the team. With the ball on Jackson’s 44-yard line, Grambling State drove 43 yards down the field and tied the contest at 10-10 after Tim Manuel nailed a 22-yard field goal to close out the scoring in the first quarter.
After a defensive stop, Grambling State continued to move the ball downfield with ease but several holding penalties forced GSU into a 3rd-and-23 situation early in the second quarter. With the pass as their only legitimate option, quarterback Brandon Landers stuck a dagger in the hearts of JSU fans as he connected with senior wideout Clyde Edwards for a 49-yard touchdown strike. Manuel’s PAT was good as GSU moved back on top 17-10.
GSU was its own worse enemy once JSU regained control of the ball at their own 20. After allowing Oliver to move JSU down the field with three consecutive first down passes, the Grambling defense was flagged for two offside penalties in the redzone which set-up a one-yard rushing touchdown by Erik Haw. JSU tied the contest once again at 17-all after Perri’s PAT but Grambling threatened to regain the lead on their next drive.
After Manuel’s 24-yard field goal sailed left, JSU’s offense went three-and-out which allowed GSU to capture a 20-17 halftime lead on Manuel’s 25-yard field goal right before halftime.
With offense taking center stage in the first half, both defenses stole the spotlight in the second half. Each team alternated possessions to open the half but Grambling State turned the tide of the contest when defensive back Lance Castleberry blocked Brett Bennett’s punt deep in JSU territory. JSU held ground and didn’t allow GSU to move the ball after the block but Manuel made them pay with his third field goal of the game for a 23-17 GSU advantage.
Holding the lead, Grambling State’s defense took control of the game and took the air out of JSU when Zaire Wilborn recovered a JSU fumble and returned it for the score. The Tigers created some breathing room after the big play and led 30-17 once Manuel’s PAT sailed through the uprights at the 2:27 mark. Jackson State made a quarterback change after GSU’s score and received an offensive spark by Trae Rutland. Rutland led the JSU offense to a field goal as they now trailed 30-20 early in the final quarter.
From that point, the contest turned into a game of clock management as GSU converted several big third down plays to keep the clock running. JSU tried to sneak back into the contest on several occasions but Grambling’s rush defense held ground and forced JSU to live-and-die by the pass.
For the game, Grambling State finished with 471 (348 P, 123 R) total yards of offense while JSU netted 353 (328 P, 25 R) yards. Landers finished with a season-high 348 passing yards on 22-of-41 attempts while tight end Tim Abney made his return to the field felt with six receptions for 65 yards. Defensively, middle linebacker Keefe Hall led the way with seven tackles while cornerback Nigel Copeland finished with six.
GSU will return home next weekend and face Texas Southern for homecoming in a contest that’ll be televised nationally by College Sports Television (CSTV).