NEW ORLEANS — The game was exciting: 71 points and 792 yards with a last-minute sack and caused fumble to thwart what would have been a comeback for the ages.

And even though the Southern and Grambling bands hardly need any help, Trombone Shorty was there wailin’ away.

But somehow, the mood in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome for the 39th Bayou Classic Saturday seemed subdued. The enthusiasm level from an announced crowd of 45,980, which appeared to be at least 20,000 less than that, never rose to the levels of not that many years ago.

And it wasn’t just that the Jaguars and the Tigers no longer fill the Superdome and are unlikely to do it again despite the bells and whistles offered by the promoters. Losing, at least on the Southern side, has seen devotion for the program, and therefore team’s in-person following, diminish significantly.

Not that it can’t be brought back by say, a new coach who can quickly get things moving back in the right direction on the Bluff.

That’s the charge for first-year Athletic Director William Broussard. Already, he’s made the bold move of firing Stump Mitchell two games into his third season.

And while interim coach Dawson Odums is to be commended for going 4-5 after the firing, including Southern’s first victory against Grambling since 2007, he’s unlikely to be brought back.

“Things have dropped off to the extent that everybody should be worried,” said R.L. Stockard, the former SU and SWAC sports information director and author of “Remembering the Bayou Classic.” “The Southern Jaguar Nation is not going to return until Southern starts winning football games again.

“Southern fans were upset and disappointed when Southern hired the man (Mitchell) they just got rid of. He didn’t understand what a head coach has to do.”

To Stockard, that starts with recruiting, especially in Louisiana, and keeping them in school, a problem that plagued Pete Richardson in his final years.

“We need a man who’s proven he can win,” he added. “Southern is not some little bitty school that needs to be hiring someone who needs on-the-job training.

“The idea that we’ve fallen behind places like Prairie View and Pine Bluff is astounding to me. Southern should always be among the elite of the historically black schools.”

Broussard seems to be intent on making a break with the past. He’s also apparently less-encumbered by the Board of Supervisors than in the past. That micromanagement helped drive Richardson into resigning three years ago. Broussard can only hope he can find a man of Richardson’s caliber.

Fans not withstanding, Saturday’s outcome was special to the ones actually wearing blue and gold.

Maybe most of all, senior wide receiver Charles Hawkins, a former walk-on from St. Augustine who caught three touchdown passes in his final game.

“I did something today I’ve never done before,” Hawkins said. “And this is still a great game to play in.

“It’s our national championship.”