SHREVEPORT — The Southern football team has played increasingly better since a March 6 loss to Arkansas-Pine Bluff, a setback that will keep the Jaguars in the Southwestern Athletic Conference championship game.
On Saturday afternoon in the Bayou Classic, their effort climaxed in a 49-7 wipeout of archrival Grambling.
That’s just the way coach Dawson Odums likes his teams — surging and playing their best football when it matters most. Except that in all likelihood, the Jaguars won’t get another chance until September.
As good as they were, posting the biggest victory margin against their in-state rival since 1939, their pandemic-ravaged spring season is probably over after Arkansas-Pine Bluff defeated Prairie View to clinch the West Division title.
The conference office has yet to make it official but with the SWAC championship game two weeks away, the Jaguars will probably have to settle for the Classic as their title game, unless Southern is invited to play in the FCS playoffs.
Quarterback Ladarius Skelton ran for two touchdowns and won his third consecutive Bayou Classic MVP award, and the Jaguars overwhelmed a beaten-down Grambling team that hadn’t played in 28 days and were minus seven starters since that last game.
“I thought the execution early on was right on,” Odums said. “We played a pretty complete football game, not a lot of miscues or mistakes. That’s a sign of a good football team, getting good at the right time. That’s normally how we are, we get better as the season goes along.
“They continued to work and get better. It’s a testament to them. They have a champion’s pedigree. They’re some good guys on and off the field that play the game the right way, and we coach it the right way. We set an expectation and standard, and we hold them accountable to meet that. They usually rise to the occasion.”
Southern (5-1, 4-1) scored touchdowns on its first three possessions. Grambling was down 14-0 before it made a first down. Southern piled up 520 yards, including 232 yards on the ground by the SWAC’s top rushing offense.
Skelton rushed for 76 yards on seven carries and completed 6 of 8 passes for 102 yards. After Skelton was shaken up for the second game in a row, John Lampley entered the game and finished a touchdown drive with a 22-yard scoring pass to tight end Gregory Perkins.
Jerodd Sims, who rushed for 56 yards on eight carries, plunged across form 1 yard out just before halftime to make it 28-0. The Jaguars made it a no-doubter to start the third quarter when Skelton ran for 26 yards, threw a 33-yard pass to Travien Benjamin and then capped it with his second 3-yard scoring run on the day.
“We executed well; we did our part, did what we’re supposed to do,” Skelton said. "It’s exciting, but it’s just another game to me. I play every game like it’s just another game. I go out and execute what I need to execute. I try my best to do what I’m supposed to do.”
Grambling, held to 208 yards, finally got on the board with 13-yard TD pass from Elijah Walker to Rayton Richardson, but Southern closed the door with scoring runs by Marquis McClain and third-string quarterback Bubba McDaniel.
For Grambling (0-4, 0-4), the end brought a sense of solace for a team that endured a coaching staff shakeup and its starting quarterback entering the transfer portal after two games.
“It’s probably more relief than anything else,” Tigers coach Broderick Fobbs said. “It’s good to get the season over with so we can get back to playing football at the time we’re supposed to.
“We’re not going to hang our heads at Grambling. A lot of things happened to us the people don’t know about. I’m proud of my kids for the way they fought in the midst of everything they had to deal with.”
Even as much of a mismatch as the game was, Southern showed how much it has improved since that critical 33-30 loss to UAPB March 6, and that there will be difficulties in starting it all over in September.
“We know today we were the better football team and we played very well,” Odums said. “We know in the fall it’s going to be even more challenging. This offseason is going to be critical to our development. We don’t know what tomorrow holds, what the next minute holds. Right now we’re going to enjoy this one, and if we are fortunate to play another one, the Jags will be ready.”