It was fitting that Grambling defensive end Michael Jolivet sacked Austin Howard to finish off Southern’s last-gasp drive Saturday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The play capped a game of comebacks for Grambling and sealed a 34-23 win at the 42nd Bayou Classic.
For a maligned defense that fell into a 20-3 hole early in the second quarter, the results provided proof that Grambling believed in itself when things looked bleak.
“Its outstanding to finally get some recognition for what we do on our side of the ball,” Jolivet said. “We work extremely hard all during the week, and it’s great for it to finally pay off on a big stage.”
Grambling was pushed around in the first half as two touchdown passes from Howard helped Southern take a 20-3 lead with 12:08 left before the break. But the Jaguars managed just three points the rest of the way.
Grambling’s offense began to find a groove as the Tigers pulled within 20-10 on Johnathan Williams’ 3-yard touchdown pass. Seemingly unfazed, Southern took the kickoff, and quickly moved to the GSU 41 where Nicholas Peoples made a momentum changing interception.
Howard threw to the end zone for Mike Jones, but Peoples was there to pick off the pass deep in the end zone. He chose to run it out, and he broke down the right sideline before being pulled down at the GSU 46.
After a short drive, Grambling got another touchdown pass from Williams, and the game was on.
“That was huge,” Grambling coach Broderick Fobbs said. “There were two opportunities (in the first half). There was the interception, and there was another opportunity where they broke a run, and our kids just kept playing hard.”
The second opportunity came on Southern’s last possession of the first half after the Jaguars had moved inside the GSU 30. Howard found Nico Talbert open over the middle on a short route, and Talbert sprinted inside the 10. But Grambling stripped the ball, and Ja’Terrious Pouncey recovered at the GSU 3.
“We always talk about stripping the football and knowing what to do after we intercept it,” Fobbs said. “All of those drills and all of the things we do came in handy tonight.”
Grambling’s defense forced Southern to punt on its first three possessions of the second half. Southern moved inside the GSU 20 midway through the fourth quarter but had to settle for Greg Pittman’s 33-yard field goal.
By that time, Grambling already had a 31-20 lead. The Tigers then put together a time-consuming drive and put the game away with a field goal of their own.
“We did a really good job of stopping the run, and putting them in a situation where they had to do one thing,” Fobbs said. “Hats off to our defense.”
Fobbs also credited defensive coordinator Everett Todd, who made adjustments after Southern scored touchdowns the first three times it had the ball.
“Coach Todd and the defensive staff did a good job of honing in on what they were trying to do to us,” Fobbs said. “They were trying to play a numbers game with us, and we did a good job getting them in third-and-long situations and getting off the field.”