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College football: Southern tops Grambling State in Bayou Classic; Tigers close season 6-5

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Brian Howard
Grambling State Sports Information Director

NEW ORLEANS — Two long pass plays in the third quarter proved to be the difference as the Grambling State Tigers nearly rallied from an 18-point deficit in a 38-28 loss to rival Southern during the 45th Annual Bayou Classic in a Southwestern Athletic Conference game on Saturday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Grambling State closed the season 6-5 overall and 4-3 in the SWAC.

With the victory, Southern earns the SWAC West Division Championship and will meet Alcorn State on Saturday in the 2018 SWAC Football Championship Game in Lorman, Miss.

“My hat goes off to Coach (Dawson) Odums and his staff for an outstanding job they’ve done,” Grambling State head coach Broderick Fobbs said. “I’m so proud of my kids. You’re not going to always execute, but to see their heart in fighting back and got us back into the ballgame, that is the thing I enjoy most. A lot of teams would have quit and a lot of teams would have given up when you’re down 31-13, but those guys fought back. We have been dethroned, but the way we fought back tonight, these guys have the heart of champions.”

The Tigers went three-and-out on their first offensive possession. On the ensuing punt, Garrett Urban’s kick was blocked by Kordell Caldwell and recovered in the endzone to give the Jaguars a quick 7-0 lead with 13:04 remaining in the opening quarter.

Grambling State was forced to punt on its next possession as Southern marched down the field. The Jaguars’ drive ended when Joseph McWilliams blocked a 42-yard Martell Fontenot field goal attempt to keep the Southern advantage at 7-0.

The Tigers were backed up to their 5-yard line to start their third offensive series. Grambling State marched 95 yards in 10 plays as Geremy Hickbottom scrambled out of the pocket and found Darrell Clark in the back of the endzone for a 30-yard touchdown pass to tie the game 7 with 48 seconds left in the first.

Southern (7-3, 6-1) broke the 7-all tie after a Grambling State punt as Cesar Barajas booted a 47-yard field goal to give Southern a 10-7 advantage with 8:48 left in the first half.

Grambling State was forced to punt on its next possession and Southern got the ball at the Tigers 43. Seven plays later, Ladarius Skelton connected with Trey Smith for a 23-yard touchdown to give the Jaguars a 17-7 lead with 2:47 remaining in the second quarter.

The Tigers responded on their next possession as Garrett Urban hit a career-long 44-yard field goal right before halftime as Southern took a 17-10 lead into the break.

The Jaguars got the ball to start the second half and drove to the Tiger 7, but Skelton fumbled on first down and the ball was picked up by La’Allan Clark, who raced 84 yards to set up first down inside the 10. Despite the great field position, the Tigers had to settle for a 21-yard Urban field goal to cut the margin to 17-13 with 10:27 remaining in the third.

Southern answered and on third-and-23 from its own 20, Skelton connected with Kendall Catalon for an 80-yard touchdown pass to five the Jaguars a 24-13 advantage with 8:30 left in the quarter.

The Jaguars took advantage of a turnover on downs and marched 65 yards in four plays as Skelton connected with Randall Menard for a 44-yard touchdown to extend the lead to 31-13 with 3:22 remaining in the third.

Southern capitalized and marched 65 yards in four plays as Skelton connected with Randall Menard over the top to extend the lead to 31-13 with 3:22 remaining in the third quarter.

Grambling State answered the Southern scoring drive and went 75 yards in 12 plays as Hickbottom scored on a 4-yard keeper. The two-point conversation pass from Hickbottom to Quintin Guice was successful as the Tigers trimmed the gap to 31-21, with 12:30 left.

On the very next offensive series, Skelton fumbled the football and the Tigers capitalized. Just four plays after the turnover, Hickbottom went into the endzone untouched to cut the Jaguar lead to 31-28 with 11:07 remaining.

The Jaguars put the game away on their next series with a seven play, 65-yard drive as Benn scored on a 2-yard touchdown run to push the margin to 38-28 with 7:51 left.