Southern put Grambling in an unfamiliar position early in the Bayou Classic.
But down the stretch it was in a familiar position as it competed an undefeated Southwestern Athletic Conference regular season with a 34-23 victory Saturday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The Tigers had trailed in just two of their previous eight SWAC games — against Alabama State and Alcorn State — and for a total of just 21 minutes and nine seconds.
The Jaguars took a 6-0 lead with 13:13 left in the first quarter and maintained a lead for 32:28.
Southern also built the biggest lead against Grambling in SWAC play when it went ahead 20-3 with 12:08 left in the second quarter. The Tigers’ biggest deficit in SWAC play had been 14 points against Alcorn State.
But Grambling took its first lead when Johnathan Williams ran 1 yard for a touchdown that gave it a 24-20 edge with 10:45 left in the third quarter. The Tigers led the rest of the way.
The game didn’t turn into the shootout the statistics suggested it might.
Grambling had averaged 46.8 points in SWAC play and Southern had averaged 42.1, but the Tigers matched their lowest point total in a SWAC game and the Jaguars had their second-lowest.
In its first conference game of the season, Grambling beat Alabama State 34-10 before scoring more than 40 points in five of its next seven games.
Southern lost to Alcorn State 48-7 on Oct. 31, but scored at least 40 points in its other seven conference games before Saturday.
Tillery sets career high
Grambling’s defense kept Southern running back Lenard Tillery under 100 yards but couldn’t stop him from reaching another milestone.
Tillery had a string of five consecutive 100-yard games, and in the last outing against Alabama A&M, he went over 1,000 yards for the second consecutive season and became the school’s all-time leading rusher.
The Grambling defense ended his string of 100-yard games, holding him to 90 yards on 14 carries, but he still set a career best with 1,192 yards for the season. That’s nine more yards than he had last year when the Jaguars played two more games.
QBs named MVPs again
For the second consecutive season, both quarterbacks were named the most valuable players for their teams in the Classic.
Williams completed 20 of 34 passes for 272 yards and three touchdowns and ran nine times for 78 yards and a touchown.
Southern’s Austin Howard completed 24 of 40 for 241 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He rushed 12 times for 56 yards and a touchdown.
Quinn makes impact on offense
Grambling took a similar approach to Southern’s recent opponents by kicking away from dangerous kick returner Willie Quinn, who entered the game with five special-teams returns for touchdowns.
Quinn didn’t have a punt return and had just one kickoff return for 12 yards as the Tigers kicked short of him on punts and utilized pop-ups on kickoffs.
On offense, though, Quinn managed to catch 12 passes for 137 yards and a 27-yard touchdown that completed the first possession of the game.
Both coaches said ball security would be a key to the game and Grambling came out ahead, intercepting Howard once, recovering a Nico Talbert fumble and not turning the ball over. ... These teams entered the game 1-2 in the SWAC in sacks allowed, and the Tigers made the only two sacks in the game. ... At halftime the Grambling band sent a “Get Well Soon” message to injured Southern wide receiver Devon Gales and formed Gales’ No. 33 on the field. … Louisiana Gov.-Elect John Bel Edwards took part in the pregame coin toss and received a loud ovation when he was introduced. ... The attendance was 62,507.