Southern’s 38-28 win over Grambling in the 45th annual Bayou Classic on Saturday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome came as a product of Southern repeatedly giving itself opportunities to overcome mistakes and control the game.
The first opportunity came two minutes into the game, when Southern blocked a punt that resulted in the Jaguars' first touchdown.
“Any time you get special-teams points it's great,” Southern coach Dawson Odums said. “I thought our guys did a great job of executing that. We went for the block, and to start the game off like that is a great momentum builder for your team.”
The score came at the hands of two reserve players, Kordell Caldwell and Benjamin Harris, who made the most of their chance in the spotlight.
After Grambling went three-and-out from the GSU 15 on its game-opening series, Jones raced through to block Garrett Urban’s punt. Following a scuffle inside the 10, the ball wound up in the end zone, where Harris smothered it for the game’s first score.
The Southern offense had yet to take the field, but the score provided an early tone-setter. It gave the Jaguars breathing room and helped Southern stay a step ahead of Grambling the rest of the half.
And, after playing from behind during its three-game losing streak to Grambling, Southern was playing with the lead right from the start.
“Finally we got a chance to get up right off the bat,” Odums said. “I think that gave us enough momentum going into halftime where we thought we were playing pretty good.”
The play also caused Grambling to bench Urban. Backup punter Miguel Mendez, who employed a rugby-style kick, finished the game for the Tigers. Mendez punted four times, three in the first half, for a 39-yard average.
Caldwell is a sophomore safety from Houston who came into the game with 15 tackles.
Grabbing momentum with a special-teams play was a familiar scenario for Southern. On Oct. 20, the Jaguars used a blocked punt to grab an early lead in a 21-7 win over Texas Southern.
That block came a minute into the game when Jordan Lewis burst through the line untouched. Carlos Stephens picked up the ball and returned it 17 yards for the touchdown. Southern then relied on its defense to secure the win over the Tigers.
Southern also needed its defense to come through in the second half against Grambling.
The Jaguars had a first-and-goal at the GSU 7 on their first drive of the second half, but a fumbled handoff turned things around. Grambling lineman La’Allan Clark picked up the fumble and rumbled 82 yards to the SU 8.
From there, the teams traded what appeared to be back-breaking penalties before Grambling settled for a 21-yard field goal.
After Southern took a 38-28 lead midway through the fourth quarter, the Jaguars sacked Grambling quarterback Geremy Hickbottom three times to force a punt. It provided Southern’s offense an opportunity to control the final minutes of the game, and the Jaguars drove deep into Grambling territory before turning the ball over on downs at the GSU 2.
Backed up into its own end, Grambling was unable to move the ball on its final drive.