The 45th Bayou Classic couldn’t have played out any better for Southern coach Dawson Odums. It dropped right into his hands, making him look psychic to his players.
In the course of the Jaguars' 38-28 victory over Grambling adversity appeared near the 5-minute mark, just like last year. This time Southern was ready for it.
The Jaguars answered Grambling’s two-touchdown surge at the 5:23 mark with a touchdown drive and defensive stop to put the lights out on the game and the Tigers three-game Classic winning streak.
The Jaguars of a year ago couldn’t finish after taking a 21-20 lead with 5:02. Odums made sure those numbers were imprinted in his players’ minds by having them watch the end of that bitter 2017 loss.
“We didn’t make a play in the last five minutes last year,” Odums said. “I’m sure at 5:23 (this year) they thought, ‘Here we go again.’ But I walked up and down the sidelines and told them ‘5:23, where do we go from here?’ You could see the confidence. ‘Don’t worry about it, coach; they haven't stopped us all day.’ You could tell the mindset was totally different.”
The mindset hasn’t only changed from last year but from the first half of the season, since a 20-3 loss to Alcorn State. That’s good news for Southern heading into a rematch with the Braves in Lorman, Mississippi, for the Southwestern Athletic Conference title at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
“We scored only three points, but we’re a different team now,” he said. “It’s going to be an interesting matchup.”
It will be made more interesting by the presence of quarterback LaDarius Skelton, the Bayou Classic MVP, and the Southern defense, which gave up some yardage but made two critical stops that helped turn the game.
Skelton took over the starting quarterback job after Alcorn, and the Jaguars are 5-0 since then. Skelton showed a strong, accurate arm with his three pinpoint TD passes to Trey Smith, Kendall Catalon and Randall Mackey. His 23-yard completion to Jemerias Houston set up Davon Benn’s TD to make it a 38-28.
He also hurt Grambling with his running, converting a fourth down on the first scoring drive with a 10-yard scamper and finishing with 79 yards on 17 carries.
“He was good tonight, but he can do way better,” Catalon said. “We left some points on the field tonight. He loved the atmosphere, loved the adversity. No matter what situation he’s in, he’s comfortable.”
The Jaguars defense held Grambling to 94 yards rushing and forced quarterback Geremy Hickbottom to carry too much of the burden. With Grambling threatening to tie the game with a first-and-goal at Southern 8-yard line, the defense forced a field goal.
After Benn’s TD, the defense slammed the door, getting three of its six sacks on the next Grambling drive. Jordan Lewis had one of them and two for the game. He leads the SWAC with 11 and has at least one in five straight games.
“The message was just finish, finish what you started,” said Southern linebacker Calvin Lunkins, who had a game-high 15 tackles and 2½ tackles for loss. “I like our chances at Alcorn.”
The Jaguars will see exactly how much better they are with the trip to Lorman. The Braves (8-3, 6-1) were clearly the best team in the SWAC with victories against Southern and Grambling. The Jaguars have been on a roll offensively since being shut down in the game in Baton Rouge, but the Braves had the week off and will be on their home turf.
“We’ve got to figure out a way to beat them,” Odums said. “Offensively, they are as good as anybody and defensively may be No. 1 in the conference. They don’t give up a lot of points, and they get after the quarterback.
“We’ve got to be so locked in. Their running backs and receivers are probably the best skill group in the conference. We got some good ones, but they are long and fast and very explosive. I thought we did a good job against them the first time, but about the middle of the third quarter they made a couple of plays. We’re doing somethings differently that they’re going to have to prepare for. It will be a good matchup.”