The Jaguars will have an opportunity to repeat as Southwestern Athletic Conference champions after beating Grambling 52-45 in a showdown for the West Division title in the 41st annual Bayou Classic on Saturday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The highest-scoring Bayou Classic, which featured 995 yards of offense, was decided when Tigers quarterback Johnathan Williams couldn’t sneak into the end zone from about 18 inches away on the final play.
Southern, which improved to 9-3 and 8-1 after its seventh consecutive victory, will play East Division champion Alcorn State in the SWAC championship next Saturday at NRG Stadium in Houston. The Tigers, losers for the second game in row after a 7-0 start in league play, finished 7-5 and 7-2.
“That’ll probably go down as one of the greatest Classics ever,” a hoarse Jaguars coach Dawson Odums said. “There were a lot of peaks and valleys, but whatever team was able to control their emotions and play to the end (was going to win).”
Freshman quarterback Austin Howard was named Southern’s MVP after throwing for 258 yards and three touchdowns, including three completions to Mike Jones for 130 yards and two scores. Lenard Tillery ran for 168 of the Jaguars’ 226 yards and scored two touchdowns as he became the school’s first 1,000-yard rusher in 11 years by increasing his season total to 1,141.
Grambling outgained Southern 511-484 but had to run 32 more plays to do so, and many of those yards came during a comeback that fell just short. Williams was named the Tigers’ MVP after completing 33 of 64 passes for 450 yards and four touchdowns and rushing for 50 more yards.
Southern led by 21 points on three occasions, but Grambling kept fighting back.