Texas Southern’s first SWAC football championship in 42 years
Birmingham, Ala. – Texas Southern did Saturday what it has done all year. The Tigers rode on the strength of their defense and wound up with a SWAC championship to show for it. TSU defeated Alabama State 11-6 at Legion Field in the 2010 Farmers Insurance SWAC Football Championship Game.
The toughest defense in the SWAC, and #2 ranked in the nation, and led by SWAC Defensive Player of the Year and SWAC Championship Game Defensive MVP, Dejuan Fulghum, the Tigers held the Hornets to 72 total yards and an average of just 1.7 yards per play. The “212” defense, named for the boiling point when water turns to steam, even scored two points of its own.
After the TSU offense took the opening drive behind backup quarterback and SWAC Championship Game Offensive MVP, Riko Smalls, 82 yards and scored on a Martin Gilbert 2-yard touchdown run, the Tigers next scored on Marquis Jackson’s safety for an 8-0 lead. Robert Hersh nailed a 28 yard field goal with 7:34 to play in the first half, and Texas Southern had all the offense it would need on the day.
Smalls played in the game instead of Arvell Nelson, who was sidelined by the TSU administration prior to the game because of uncertainty pertaining to his NCAA eligibility.
“We wanted to protect the institution,” head coach Johnnie Cole said. He said they didn’t want to risk all the hard work these kids put in when there was a question about his (Nelson’s) eligibility.
Marcus Wright ran for over 100 yards for the 7th straight game for TSU and set the single season rushing mark with 1,212 yards for the season. He tallied 123 yards on 37 carries Saturday. Smalls ran for 84 and threw for 86, but was cool under the pressure of being pressed into the starting role in the biggest game in school history.
Alabama State’s defense was nearly as good as TSU’s. After the opening drive from the Tigers ended with a touchdown, the Hornets gave up just 227 yards and 3 points the rest of the day. Brandon Roberts racked up 16 total tackles for the Hornets.
Fulghum finished with 10 tackles, 7 solo, 3.5 tackles-for-loss, 2.0 sacks, and a forced fumble.
Alabama State made it interesting with 1:20 to play when Devin Dominguez found T.C. McWilliams in the back of the endzone for a 2-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to 11-6. The 19-yard, 2-play drive was set up Jacques Rickerson 49-yard punt return that kept the Hornets with a pulse late in the game. TSU, however, doused those hopes by recovering the on-side kick and running out the clock.
The title is the first for the Tigers since sharing the honors in 1968 with Alcorn State and Grambling.