BIRMINGHAM, Ala. â€“ Grambling State captured its 22nd SWAC Championship in school history after a dominating 41-9 performance over Jackson State before 25,873 fans at Legion Field.
In usual fashion, the Grambling (11-2, 7-0 SWAC) defense made the game’s first big play as junior Lance Castleberry forced and returned a fumble to the JSU 48 on Jackson State’s first offensive possession. Behind the strength of two important conversions on third and fourth downs, Grambling managed to find the end zone on its first offensive drive as Greg Dillon connected with Kiare Thompson for a 5-yard strike with 7:08 left in the quarter.
After a JSU punt, Grambling kept its foot on the gas pedal as Dillon went to the air and connected with fullback Dante’ Cheek for a 39-yard touchdown strike en route to Cheek’s first career score and second reception of the year. Luis Leal’s PAT sailed through as Grambling led 13-0.
Not to be overshadowed by the offense, the Grambling defense went to work in the second quarter with several more big plays. The unit thwarted a 4th down conversion by JSU to open the quarter, came up with an interception by senior linebacker Keefe Hall and forced a JSU punt on Jackson’s three second quarter drives. Grambling had a shot to add to its lead as the half came to an end but Leal’s 37-yard field goal attempt sailed left as Grambling took a 13-0 lead into intermission.
The Jackson State defense came up with the first big play of the second half as wideout Terrance Dunn fumbled at the JSU 25 on GSU’s opening possession. However, the Tiger defense held its ground and contained Jackson State’s momentum as they were held to a field goal for a 13-3 margin at the 10:57 mark.
With Jackson State creeping back into the contest, Grambling countered with the game’s biggest play as sophomore defensive back David Stuckman returned the ensuing kickoff 91 yards for a touchdown. The touchdown return, Grambling’s first since 2006, was extra special as it marked Stuckman’s first-ever kickoff return in a GSU uniform. Leal’s PAT was good as Grambling built a 20-3 lead with 10:43 left in the quarter.
Lightening struck twice for Grambling on the game’s next series as T.J. McCord intercepted a Rutland pass and returned it 28 yards to Jackson’s 3. Two plays later, Grambling padded its lead as the Dillon-Thompson combo hooked up once again for a 7-yard strike and a 26-3 lead.
A missed assignment allowed an easy JSU touchdown midway through the third quarter but it was all Grambling from that point as junior defensive back Kenneth Anio added the icing on the cake with an 85-yard return in the fourth quarter to seal Grambling’s fate in the history books.
For the game, Grambling netted 293 total yards (179 P, 114 R) while Jackson finished with 224 (168 P, 56 R). Dillon, the game’s offensive MVP, finished 13-of-19 for 145 yards passing with three touchdowns. Sophomore running back Frank Warren tallied 89 yards on 10 carries while Nick Lewis caught 5 passes for 77 yards.
On defense, championship game MVP and Birmingham native Christian Anthony led the way with seven tackles, two sacks, three tackles for loss, two quarterback hurries and a forced fumble.
The win marked Grambling’s 22nd SWAC Championship and first since 2005. In addition, head coach Rod Broadway entered elite company as he guided Grambling to an 11-win campaign for only the fifth time in school history. In addition, Grambling’s two-game losing streak at Legion Field came to an end as GSU recorded its first win there since 2005.
With the final Sheridan Poll on the horizon next week, Grambling also stands a chance of earning its 14th National Black College Championship as the Tigers are currently ranked No. 1 in the poll.