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Redemption in the Bayou Classic puts Southern in SWAC title game

Next up is Alcorn State after Jaguars beat Grambling 38-28

Defense and redemption were the name of the game for Southern University in Saturday’s Bayou Classic against Grambling State University.

After three straight losses to the Tigers, the Jaguars’ 38-28 win puts them into the Southwestern Athletic Conference’s (SWAC) title game Dec. 1 against Alcorn State.

The title game in Lorman, Mississippi, will be a rematch. Southern lost to the SWAC West Division winner 20-3 at home on Sept. 29. Alcorn State has the top-ranked offense and defense in the conference.

“We’re going to have to be locked in,” said Southern coach Dawson Odums. “Their running backs and receivers are probably the best skill guys in our conference. We got some good ones, but they’re long, they’re fast, they’re very explosive.”

The winner advances to the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl against Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champion North Carolina A&T in Atlanta on Dec. 15.

The SWAC title game is where Odums prepared his team to be. In the week prior to the Classic, the coach put his team through some of the toughest practices of the season.

In last year’s Classic loss to Grambling, Southern held a one-point lead late in the game but wilted, eventually losing 30-21.

“Our motto all year has been playing 60 minutes,” said Odums. “When you play like that, you’ve got a chance.”

Southern came out aggressively from the start, when safety Kordell Caldwell blocked Miguel Mendez’s punt on the first series. Benjamin Harris recovered it in the end zone for a 7-0 lead. Grambling, with less than a minute to go in the quarter, scored on a Geremy Hickbottom pass to Darrell Clark, and that was as close as the Tigers got the rest of the day.

“Anytime you get special-teams points, it’s great,” said Odums. “I thought our guys did a great job of executing that. We went for the block, and to start the game off like that is a great momentum-builder for your team.”

That wasn’t the only big play of the game for Southern. Jaguars quarterback Ladarius Skelton had touchdown passes of 80, 44 and 23 yards and ran for 79 yards on 17 carries. Southern’s other offensive star was running back Devon Benn, who finished with 167 yards on 19 carries and constantly ran for tough yards and broke runs when it looked like Grambling’s defense had him.

Hickbottom tried his best to keep the Tigers close. Southern (6-1 SWAC, 7-3 overall) looked like it was about to blow the game wide-open in the third quarter, but the redshirt freshman scored twice on runs, making it 31-28.

Grambling (4-4, 6-5) was able to score easily when Southern’s offense fumbled twice inside the red zone. But Southern’s defense came back to life, sacking Hickbottom four times in Grambling’s last two drives to seal the game.

All game long, the Jaguars’ defense kept Grambling one-dimensional, limiting it to just 94 yards rushing and 213 yards passing.

“My hat goes off to Coach Odums and his staff for an outstanding job they’ve done,” said Grambling State coach Broderick Fobbs. “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.”

John X. Miller is senior editor for news and commentary for The Undefeated. He's a father, jazz aficionado and diehard UNC basketball fan.