After dropping three of the last four meetings to Grambling State — several in humbling, blowout fashion — Southern exorcized its Bayou Classic demons to win the SWAC Western Division championship in convincing fashion, 38-28 Saturday night.
The Jaguars (7-3, 6-1 SWAC), used the legs and arm of quarterback Ladarius Skelton, who threw for 217 yards to go along with three touchdown passes and another 79 yards on the ground to frustrate the Grambling defense.
With the win, Southern is 5-0 since Skelton was inserted as the starter down the stretch.
Southern, winners of the division for the first time since 2014, now advances to the SWAC Championship Game versus current five-time SWAC Eastern Division champion Alcorn State in Lorman, Mississippi, on Dec. 1.
“Our motto all year has been playing 60 minutes,” said Southern head coach Dawson Odums. “When you play like that, you’ve got a chance.”
Southern took a 7-0 lead less than two minutes into the game when Kordell Caldwell blocked a punt by Martell Fontenot and fell on the football in the end zone.
“I thought our guys did a great job of executing that,” said Odums, who is 2-3 all-time against Broderick Fobbs. “We went for the block, and to start the game off like that is a great momentum builder for your team.”
Southern was threatening to increase its 17-10 halftime lead on the first possession of the third quarter, but it botched a handoff and La’Allan Clark picked up the ball and ran 80 yards to the Jaguars 8.
A penalty pushed the Tigers back, and they settled for Garrett Urban’s 21-yard field goal that cut Southern’s lead to 17-13.
On the next possession, the Jaguars faced a third and 23 when Skelton connected with Kendall Catalon for an 80-yard touchdown and a 24-13 lead midway through the third quarter.
Skelton’s 44-yard touchdown pass to Randall Menard increased Southern’s lead to 31-13 after three quarters.
Geremy Hickbottom ran 4 yards for a touchdown and completed a pass for a two-point conversion that cut the Jaguars lead to 31-21 early in the fourth quarter.
The Tigers recovered a fumble at the Southern 19 on the next possession and Hickbottom’s 1-yard touchdown run trimmed the lead to 31-28 with 11:07 remaining. He finished the game with 188 yards passing and three total touchdowns.
The Jaguars answered with a 2-yard touchdown run by Benn and a 38-28 lead with 7:51 left before the Southern offense made enough plays on offense down the stretch to hold on for a win that had been four years in the making.
“It feels amazing to finally get a win,” cornerback Demerio Houston said. “Last year cut deep because we were five minutes away. It was heartbreaking.”
For Grambing (6-5, 4-3), the 2018 season ends a month earlier than they anticipated — something that is unfamilar for a program that dominated the league in recent seasons.
“My hat goes off to coach Odums and his staff for an outstanding job they’ve done,” 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.”