NEW ORLEANS — Halfway through the 38th annual Bayou Classic, it was apparent that Southern University was living on borrowed time.
Trailing just 10-6 to a Grambling squad that seemed determined to shoot itself in the foot, Southern had already squandered a game’s worth of Tigers’ mistakes.
The second half proved to be a different story as Grambling righted itself, and cruised to the finish line in a 36-12 win at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
A pair of D.J. Williams-to-Mario Louis third-quarter touchdown passes helped Grambling take a 14-point lead.
And with the Southern offense struggling to find a rhythm, the fourth quarter became a tedious afterthought as the longwinded contest drew to a close.
“We were trying to get some momentum going into next season and send the seniors off, but we didn’t execute on offense,” Southern junior offensive tackle Chris Browne said.
“The defense held up as long as it could, and they got tired. They were on the field the whole game.”
Much of the damage was done at the line of scrimmage, where Grambling’s offense cleared the way for 272 yards rushing, including 195 by Dawrence Roberts.
On defense, junior end Jomarcus Savage spearheaded a relentless pass rush as he recorded two of Grambling’s seven sacks on the day.
“We didn’t come out playing our game,” Southern senior safety Demetric Rogers said. “I think they were more physical from the start. Once they got up a couple of scores, we never got in sync.”
The lack of syncopation wasn’t for a lack of opportunities or a little first-half help from Grambling.
On the Tigers’ second series, an illegal shift penalty nullified Williams’ 34-yard scoring pass to Dezmond Spivey.
One play later, Grambling settled for Zoltan Riazzo’s 53-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead.
Two plays into the second quarter, Virgil Williams recovered Kenneth Batiste’s fumble at the SU 40.
But from there, Southern went backward, eventually punting from its 22.
Williams and Louis hooked up for the first of their three touchdowns to put Grambling up 10-0.
But Southern answered with J.P. Douglas’ 13-yard pass to Lee Doss. It was a score set up when Corry Roy recovered a muffed Grambling punt return.
The Tigers had a final gift for Southern before the half when Dexter James recovered D.J. Williams’ fumble at midfield. Grambling’s Bruna’ Foster intercepted an under-thrown Douglas pass on third-down to end the threat.
“The score doesn’t reflect the way we played,” said Southern senior linebacker Jamie Payton, who had a game-high 15 tackles, including four tackles for loss.
“We got the turnovers, but we just couldn’t capitalize on them. We were on the field for the majority of the game. Regardless of the situation, we still had to come out, we still had to stop them from scoring.”
Jared Detrick’s fumble recovery early in the third quarter set up a short field for Southern, which had fallen behind 17-6.
Dray Joseph’s 5-yard scoring pass to Mike Berry made it 17-12 with 6:47 to go in the quarter. It was the last of Southern’s two short scoring drives, and its final offensive hurrah.
Grambling responded by scoring a touchdown and forcing a safety for a 26-12 lead, and Southern’s hopes of derailing Grambling’s run to the SWAC Championship game had dwindled away faster than the scoreboard clock could tick.
“I give (Grambling) credit,” Rogers said. “I hope they go to the SWAC championship and defend the West like they’re supposed to do.”