The Next Level: The last play of last year’s Bayou Classic has been on the minds of Grambling players for a year.
The Tigers trailed Southern 52-45 when they lined up inside the Jaguars’ 1-yard line with 8 seconds left and no timeouts. Johnathan Williams tried a quarterback sneak, but Southern noseguard Gabe Echols blocked his path and the Jaguars stopped Williams inches short of the goal line.
“I think about it every day,” Grambling defensive lineman Donovan McCray said. “It wasn’t a good feeling losing that game by that many yards — inches, not even yards. I’ll never forget that feeling that we as a team felt.
“It was like somebody stabbed you and took something from you.”
The Jaguars did take something from the Tigers: the Southwestern Athletic Conference West division championship.
“It ended in a tragic way for them and an exciting way for us,” Echols said.
The outcome sent Southern to the SWAC title game in Houston and sent Grambling home.
“I’m sure they hate — one that they lost to us, and two, that they didn’t make it to Houston instead of us going,” Southern wide receiver Mike Jones said. “They probably feel like they should have been that team.”
This year, the Tigers are that team, having clinched the West title with an 8-0 conference record.
Even Grambling coach Broderick Fobbs, who doesn’t allow himself or his players to glance backward or forward during the season, said the narrow loss fueled his players during the offseason.
“I think they’re hanging their hat on last year’s goal-line stand as their motivation to pay us back,” Southern coach Dawson Odums said.
The Jaguars can relate to the Tigers’ eagerness to get another crack at them. Southern players have been sporting T-shirts inscribed with “Remember — 38-24” to commemorate the score by which they lost to Alcorn State in the SWAC championship game last year.
The Jaguars won’t get their shot at redemption, but the Tigers have theirs.
“I think they’re a little envious of us because since I’ve been here I don’t think they’ve beaten us,” Jaguars tackle Reginald Redding said. “So you always look forward to that next season and beating the team you haven’t beaten. We’re going to try and not allow those 365 days to mean anything.”
1.Good use of time
Grambling has made the most of its time with the football. Last in the SWAC in time of possession (25:34 per game), Grambling is second in scoring (46.8 ppg). “Because we’re a fast-paced offense, we score quickly,” coach Broderick Fobbs said. “The name of the game is to put points on the board and stop them from scoring.”
2. The quinn factor
Will Grambling kick to Willie Quinn? The last three opponents have effectively kicked way from him, holding him to a combined one punt return (for minus-33 yards) and two kickoff returns (for 21 yards). Quinn can tie the FCS record for special teams touchdowns in a season (6) by reaching the end zone on a punt return or a kickoff return.
3. Seeing red
Watch closely when Southern approaches the Grambling end zone. That’s because Southern leads the SWAC in red-zone offense, scoring on 86 percent of its trips inside the opposition’s 20. Grambling leads the league in red-zone defense, having allowed points on just 57.5 percent of opponents’ trips inside its 20.
4. Battle in trenches
This game could be determined by who wins in the trenches. These are two of the best teams in SWAC play at allowing and preventing sacks. Grambling has the second-most sacks (28) and Southern has the third-most (24). Southern has allowed the second-fewest (6) and Grambling has allowed the third-fewest (13).