By Felix Cunningham
Since the inception of the Bayou Classic, Southern University and Grambling State University have been bitter rivals and only bitter rivals take each other down to the Bayou of New Orleans.
Entering this year’s game, Southern led the series with Grambling 21-20.
Grambling (9-2, 9-0) entered the Mercedes-Benz Superdome with an undefeated streak in the Southwestern Athletic Conference and a bid in the SWAC championship against Alcorn State.
The Tigers kept their streak intact, winning 34-23 over the Jaguars in the 42nd Bayou Classic, and snapping a three-game losing streak to Southern.
Southern head coach Dawson Odums had to watch FCS Coach of the Year Broderick Fobbs of Grambling run away with the gold.
Southern (6-5, 6-3) entered the Superdome unable to clinch the West to enter the SWAC Championships for the third year in a row, but to end the season at this marker, meant high reward.
The Bayou Classic was a punishing factor for Southern with Grambling scoring 31 unanswered points after the first quarter.
“This game is 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical, and they won both,” Southern linebacker Daniel Brown said.
Southern came alive early in the first quarter when Willie Quinn captured the first touchdown pass by Austin Howard. However with the failing PAT the score stayed 6-0.
Grambling came back in their second drive and only got close enough to kick a field goal.
Southern returned to the gridiron and capsized Grambling with another touchdown after running back Lenard Tillery rushed for two yards to gather a 13-0 lead with less than five minutes left in the first quarter.
Southern rebounded in the second quarter and Howard swiftly gathered the 13-yard quarterback keep for another touchdown to give the Jaguars a 20-3 lead.
“We knew they had an explosive offense,” Southern quarterback Austin Howard said, “but we have one too, so we tried to get off to a fast start.”
The Jaguars’ fast start didn’t last long.
The Tigers sparked a jolt of energy and Baton Rouge native K’Andre Domino hauled in the first Grambling touchdown with a two-yard catch to cut the lead to 20-10 in the second quarter.
Southern fixated on the ground and pound, but wide receiver Nico Talbert fumbled at the three-yard line near the end of the first half.
But halftime was not the end of Grambling’s offensive output.
Grambling took a 24-20 lead in the third quarter on a one-yard touchdown run by quarterback Johnathan Williams.
The Tigers sustained their lead for the rest of the game.
Williams, the SWAC leader in total offense, made his presence known with 350 total yards and four touchdowns in his final Bayou Classic.
Southern’s MVP, quarterback Austin Howard, finished 24-of-40 for 241 yards with a single touchdown.
This marked the endpoint of the regular season for the Tigers, who pulled away with their first Bayou Classic victory since 2011. This marks the third time in four years that a winner from the Bayou Classic was also the West Division representative in the SWAC Championship game.
This Bayou Classic electrified the crowd and never lost its luster.