By MARK F. GRAY, AFRO Staff Writer, [email protected]
For over four decades, 45 times to be exact, Grambling and Southern have met in New Orleans on the Saturday after Thanksgiving in what has become known as the Bayou Classic. When the “Gram Fam” connects with “Jaguar Nation” there are always bragging rights on the line for Black college football fan bases in the Deep South that will resonate for the next year.
However, there are times when the cultural celebration of Africana Americana from the heart of Louisiana merges with the harsh realities of college football to produce an event whose ramifications are felt throughout the Southwestern Athletic Conference. Such was the case when the Tigers and Jaguars met in the Mercedes Benz Superdome with the west division on the line in the “Big Easy” and a spot in the SWAC Football Championship Game hanging in the balance.
Southern, playing like a team that is peaking at the right time of the season, ended Grambling’s current dominance of the Bayou Classic with a 38-28 win that earned them an all expense paid trip to Lorman, Mississippi for a date with Alcorn State to play for the SWAC championship.
The pressure on Southern coach Dawson Odums was palpable during the week leading to the Classic despite a four game win streak that put them back into the mix for a run at the conference championship. After the Jaguars lost to Alcorn State on their homecoming in Baton Rouge the whispers of his job security grew louder. Their unacceptable 20-3 loss to the Braves and three consecutive losses to Grambling had one of the most rabid fan bases in HBCU sports ready to send Mayflower trucks and plant a for sale sign in the coach’s front lawn.
Several Southern athletic department sources told the AFRO that there was a “strong possibility” Odums could’ve been fired as early as this week had they lost, despite stabilizing a program that was perpetually influx since the legendary Pete Richardson controlled their sidelines. Analysts and prognosticators who follow the SWAC closely also felt that if the Jaguars didn’t win this year it could be another half decade before they would again and that would hasten a coaching exit.
Meanwhile, the defending SWAC champions were playing with house money. Broderick Fobbs, another one of legendary coach Eddie Robinson’s wayward sons, who returned to restore the program’s credibility, had won three straight over Southern and a national championship so he could breathe easier knowing that his young team had overachieved just being in contention for the conference title no matter the outcome of this year’s most meaningful regular season game.
Two of the SWAC’s most prolific offenses are in rebuilding mode and their inconsistency of inexperience was on display throughout. This annual cat fight had been defined by record setting pass offenses led by Southern’s Austin Howard and Grambling’s Devante’ Kincade. However, the development of those previous understudy’s is what led to this meeting with everything on the line in the division.
Southern’s Ladarius Skelton and Grambling’s Geremy Hickbottom were named most valuable players for their respective teams. Skelton, the Jaguars quarterback, finished with 219 yards passing and three touchdowns while adding 79 yards rushing. Hickbottom, Skelton’s counterpart, accounted for 248 total yards with two passing with another TD on the ground for the Tigers. However, Grambling never contained Southern running game. Devan Benn’s 167 yards and one TD ultimately wore down the Tigers sending the Jaguars to their upcoming date with Alcorn.
Postgame Southern insiders feel that Odums is safe right now but, a blowout loss in the SWAC Championship could still force a change on the sidelines in Baton Rouge.