NEW ORLEANS - Many times before, Doug Williams had been inside this building.
As a Grambling player, he had some great moments. As a pro quarterback, he had a few more.
In six previous seasons as his alma mater’s football coach, from 1998-2003, Williams was victorious at the Bayou Classic only once.
But this grand return was a good one. This Bayou Classic was a no-doubter.
Saturday afternoon, near midfield at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, after Grambling overcame five turnovers and pounded archrival Southern in the second half of a 36-12 romp, Williams happily accepted the winner’s trophy.
Several minutes later, in a darkened hallway outside the loser’s locker room, Jaguars coach Stump Mitchell stood against a wall, explaining what went wrong after his team trailed by only four points at halftime, 10-6.
Mitchell minced no words.
“They took it to us,” he said.
They certainly did.
With that, Southern’s second season under Mitchell - alternately marked by thrilling upsets and ugly fourth-quarter collapses - ended with a resounding thud in the Superdome, which hosted only 40,715 fans, the smallest crowd in Classic history.
It ended after Williams’ own son, D.J. Williams, threw for 174 yards and three touchdowns - all of them to star wideout Mario Louis. The Tigers (7-4, 6-3 Southwestern Athletic Conference) piled up 446 yards from scrimmage.
It ended after Southern’s offense was buried by an avalanche of Grambling defenders, who sacked the Jaguars seven times, knocked quarterback J.P. Douglas out of the game, and held the Jaguars to 174 yards.
It ended with the Tigers celebrating their sixth consecutive win, the Western Division title and an unlikely trip to the SWAC title game Dec. 10 in Birmingham, Ala., against Alabama A&M.
Grambling, in the first year of Williams’ second coaching stint, lost four of its first five games this season. But the Tigers rebounded to win six in a row, including Saturday’s game, which gave them four straight wins against Southern - something they hadn’t achieved since 1983-86.
The Jaguars (4-7, 4-5), on the other hand, came into Saturday’s game with hopes of defeating its archrival and forcing a four-way tie atop the Western Division, thereby knocking the Tigers out of next month’s SWAC title game (in that scenario, Arkansas-Pine Bluff would have represented the West against Alabama A&M).
Instead, Southern had what might have been its worst performance all year.
It was the Jaguars’ most lopsided loss since the season opener on Sept. 3, when Tennessee State thumped them 33-7 at LP Field.
“I don’t know if it’s the worst,” defensive tackle Kedy Enabulele said. “But this, by far, hurts the most.”
Grambling didn’t play its best game, either, missing several chances to take a more comfortable lead before halftime.
But the Tigers cruised anyway.
“We had a couple of big turnovers that hurt us, and we had opportunities to score more points,” Doug Williams said. “The thing is, at the end of the day, we came back and played exceptionally well. We were able to run the football and throw the football, and that’s what it’s all about.”
Dawrence Roberts carried the ball early and often for Grambling. Twenty-one of his 36 rushing attempts came before halftime. He finished with 195 yards, and his fourth-quarter touchdown was the final score in a 26-point second-half barrage against a tired Southern defense.
“Eventually, those guys are going to wear down,” Mitchell said. “I thought our defense played well enough to have won. But offensively, we didn’t help out our defense.”
The Tigers defense, meanwhile did its job.
Heading into this weekend, Grambling defensive coordinator Cliff Yoshida was concerned about Douglas and his top two wideouts, LaQuinton Evans and Mike Berry.
With that in mind, Yoshida said, the Tigers’ overall defensive plan was simple: Keep everything in front of you, and don’t get burned on a big play.
Grambling held Berry to 49 yards, and it held Evans to 26 yards.
One other thing: All that pass pressure didn’t hurt.
“For a freshman, (Douglas) had a lot of poise. He’s a real good player, I thought,” Yoshida said. “But we were just going to try to pressure him, see if we could rattle him a little bit. We got quite a few hits on him early, and I think that made him move his feet a little more than he wanted to.”
Grambling sacked Douglas three times in the first two quarters, and just before halftime, knocked the freshman out of the game. Douglas suffered a concussion, leaving the Jaguars to play the rest of the afternoon with sophomore Dray Joseph - who’d started six previous games this season, but suffered his own concussion Nov. 12 at Alabama State.
Joseph threw for 138 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
Either way, it hardly mattered who stayed in the pocket for Southern, because the pocket didn’t stay intact for very long.
The Tigers finished with seven sacks and nine tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
In effect, they pounded Southern into submission.
Because of that, Doug Williams and Grambling left the Superdome with a good feeling.