Friday, February 02, 2007
No let up for Grambling as it faces another rested foe
By Nick Deriso
December 7, 2005
GRAMBLING - Grambling State, for the sixth time this season, faces a team coming off an open week. Alabama A&M, GSU's opponent in Saturday's Southwestern Athletic Conference championship game, last played at Prairie View on Nov. 19.
"It goes against us, since guys have some bumps and bruises," said GSU coach Melvin Spears. "But, overall, you are talking about playing for the championship. If you can't get them up for the championship, they don't need to be playing anyway."
The SWAC title match, held at 1 p.m. at Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala., will air live on ESPN Classic. GSU (10-1, 9-0 SWAC) and Alabama A&M (9-2, 7-2) also played for the championship in 2000 and 2002, with Grambling winning both.
"It's always a concern when you have time off," said A&M coach Anthony Jones. "Two things can happen: You get a chance to heal because you have been banged up. When you get a break, that helps that situation. But it hurts your timing. Your rhythm is off. You haven't played. That's a concern."
Even when the schedule has spotted its opponents extra time for preparation, Grambling has had consistent success, going 5-0 in games where the opponent has had a bye the week before. Wins included Prairie View, Mississippi Valley, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Southern and Alcorn State.
Rather than helping those teams prepare for Grambling, however, each seemed to get off to a creaky start.
They scored a total of 10 first-quarter points, including a Valley field goal and a broken-play passing touchdown by Southern. GSU, meanwhile, put up 59 total points.
"When you play a team like Grambling that can dominate the game," Jones said, "you've got to be concerned about starting this game off slow. If you start off slow, you can find yourself down in a hole that you just can't get out of."
Still, while GSU beat conference opponents by an average of 25 points during this undefeated season, two of GSU's closest SWAC games - Valley and Pine Bluff, beaten by a total of 18 points - came after bye weeks for the opponent.
Spears stops short of blaming the bye week.
"It's a matter of energy for us," he said. "When we start doing the things that we are taught to do - making the check downs, running when we are supposed to - then we are going to stay ahead of things."
Last Saturday was scheduled as a bye date before this title match, but Hurricane Katrina forced the postponement of GSU's date at Lorman, Miss., against Alcorn State. That left Grambling with just two off weeks this year, before Prairie View on Oct. 1 and Southern on Nov. 26.
GSU won those games by a combined score of 100-26.
Mayes out for the Tigers
Punishing fullback Ruben Mayes, a key cog in the Grambling State running attack, is out for the season with a knee injury.
This is precisely why GSU didn't want to play a meaningless rescheduled game at Alcorn last week, coach Melvin Spears said.
"Ruben got nicked," he said. "We lose a lot with him being gone."
Mayes went down late in Saturday's game, attempted to get up and then went right back down. Mayes said afterward he intended to play this week, but that has been nixed by team doctors.
"When I got up, my knee just slipped out," said Mayes, who was scheduled for an MRI on Tuesday.
If Ab Kuuan can get going downhill, Mayes is an added luxury as a blocker. Where he'll be missed is as a bruising backfield alternative and a sure-handed checkdown in passing situations. Mayes' clutch TD catch at the Bayou Classic sealed the game.
"He's presence and a load," said GSU offensive coordinator Sammy White. "Every team had to respect that. He's a powerful guy."
Craig Lloyd and Tommy Dural, a converted lineman, will work at fullback.
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Quick slants: Grambling
December 6, 2005
Even with the Southwestern Athletic Conference championship looming, recruiting for the future is never far from the minds of Grambling State's staff.
"The thing is, not to let the other guys catch up," said coach Melvin Spears. "Our job as coaches is to make sure (competing SWAC programs) never close that gap."
GSU is looking to bolster talent in the backfield and in the secondary. Coaches are also looking for players with line skills on both sides of the ball, since Grambling employs such an aggressive rotation scheme. Talented prep receivers are always closely evaluated.
GSU's game trips to Seattle and Houston this year are apparently providing fertile recruiting ground.
Running back Stan Smith of Archbishop Murphy in Everett, Wash., is considering Grambling, according to The Everett Herald.
Rivals.com is also reporting that GSU has offered a scholarship to defensive lineman Eric Smith of Worthing High in Houston. Smith is being pursued by Tulsa, Missouri and North Texas, as well.
Perhaps surprisingly, the coaches are even open to quarterback prospects. Though redshirt sophomore Brandon Landers seems to have the starting job nailed down for 2006, backup Larry Kerlegan has continued to struggle with his classroom responsibilities. That could open the door for a new face.
GSU's 10-1 season has triggered several football-related incentives in Spears' contract.
Spears is already set to receive bonuses both for winning eight or more games and for beating Southern in the Bayou Classic. Added incentives include winning a conference title, being named national Black College Champion, a Top 10 ranking, and having 35 or more honor-roll players or at least a 50-percent graduation rate.
Spears has a base salary of $150,000, making him the second-best paid coach in the SWAC. Southern's Pete Richardson has now lost to Spears in two consecutive Bayou Classics since signing a $200,000 deal.
Game week focus on...
GRAMBLING'S UNDEFEATED SWAC SEASON
Grambling finished the year with an unblemished conference record, something that hadn't been done since 1989 under former coach Eddie Robinson.
"Our guys are elated about it," said GSU coach Melvin Spears. "Our goal at the beginning of the year was to win all of our conference games and go to the championship. That means a whole lot."
GSU (10-1, 9-0 in Southwestern Athletic Conference) plays Alabama A&M on Saturday at Birmingham for the SWAC championship, in a rematch of the 2000 and 2002 title contests.
"In order to win these games," Spears said, "you have to have outstanding players. That's where all the credit goes."
The Tigers enter Saturday's game with the league's leading passer (Bruce Eugene), receiver (Henry Tolbert) and tackler for a loss (Jason Hatcher).
"I sit back and think sometimes about that great season we had in 2002, when Bruce was a sophomore," said Tolbert. "That was the best team I had ever played on, and even then we weren't undefeated."
The 2005 season's 9-0 romp through the SWAC included an average winning margin of 25 points. Grambling's defense gave up less than three TDs each game, while the offense scored more than six.
"We're trying to tear this conference apart," said Eugene. "Years from now, we want people to remember this 2005 team."
Grambling had previously provided information that put the last undefeated SWAC season at 1992, but further research showed GSU lost to Alcorn State during that campaign.
In 1989, Grambling went 9-3 and was spotless in conference play. Grambling won the SWAC championship and, as with this year's team, boasted the conference's offensive player of the year at quarterback, Clemente Gordon.
The '89 season ended when the Tigers lost a heartbreaking 59-56 thriller in the Division I-AA playoffs at Nacogdoches, Texas, against Stephen F. Austin. GSU's only other losses that year were to Howard and Tennessee State.
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All-SWAC snub fuels WR Tolbert's fire
December 8, 2005
By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING - Henry Tolbert went to high school a stone's throw from the venue where the Southwestern Athletic Conference championship game will be played this Saturday.
If recent history is any guide, that will again push the senior Grambling State receiver to brilliance.
GSU (10-1, 9-0 in the SWAC) plays Alabama A&M (9-2, 7-2) at 1 p.m. Saturday for the league title at Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala. The game will be broadcast live on ESPN Classic.
Tolbert, a receiver out of Parker High in Birmingham, is coming off a four-score performance at Alcorn State - he caught three touchdowns and ran for another one - after an insulting second-team all-conference snub earlier in the week.
"I'll put it this way," said Grambling offensive coordinator Sammy White, "he felt he should have been on the first team. Now, he didn't say anything about it. He just got more focused. By Saturday, he was a man possessed."
Tolbert has led the SWAC in yards per game, yards per catch and scoring since Week 1. He enters this week with 63 catches for 1,207 and 15 touchdowns, averaging a startling 19.2 yards per reception.
What about that says … second team? It hurt.
"Honestly, I did care," Tolbert said. "When the newspaper came out, and I saw it, I was so mad. I did my best to get over it, but once the game got here on Saturday, it was stuck in my mind."
Yes, history means something to Tolbert. That's why he aims to make a similar showing in Birmingham.
Parker High is also the alma mater of Junious "Buck" Buchanan, Grambling's first Pro Football Hall of Famer; All-America defender Andre Robinson, now the linebackers coach at GSU; and Robert Taylor, a legendary sack artist from the championship period under former coach Doug Williams.
"That school has meant so much to Grambling over the years, and Tolbert is just another to go along with that long line of great players," said GSU coach Melvin Spears. "We call him 'X Factor' because he's often overlooked. But Henry Tolbert can do it all."
Tolbert's uncanny talent is best observed during his runs after the catch - perhaps not surprising for a player pegged by Williams as a running back during the program's most recent SWAC title-winning season in 2002.
Still, by 2003, Tolbert was rushing for 381 yards, while adding 392 receiving yards. He was starting to establish himself as a difference maker on the other end of passing plays.
A disciplined, not-overly showy style of play continues to disguise an emerging talent. After all, even last year, when a freshman quarterback led GSU's attack and a nagging hip injury, he caught 29 balls and averaged 19.4 yards per catch. Tolbert had game-changing performances against Prairie View and Jackson State.
By 2005, he was doing things that recalled Grambling greats like Trumaine Johnson and Tramon Douglas.
Of 11 games played so far this season, Tolbert has had 90 or more receiving yards in nine of them. Though he only had three catches for 35 yards against Division I-AA opponent Washington State, one of those receptions was GSU's only score of the day.
"It's hard to pick on me, because most things don't really bother me," said Tolbert. "But when I'm in a situation like that, where I feel like someone is trying to take something from me that I think is mine, that's a pet peeve."
It's true: Tolbert, with a smile that could light up a stadium, is mostly an easy-going type. That might have contributed to his being relegated to the All-SWAC second team - despite being just the fourth Grambling receiver ever to gain 2,000 in receiving yards. Those 1,207 yards this season are second all time for a single campaign, and Tolbert still has the title match to play.
"The stats he has already are unbelievable," said White, himself an all-conference receiver for former GSU coach Eddie Robinson. "He has a chance to be Grambling's all-time leading receiver in just about every category. It's funny, he kind of sneaks up on you."
That's how Tolbert arrived in Lorman, Miss., to face Alcorn State last week, silent but with a chip on his shoulder. Heck, it was more like a bag of chips.
"The coaches said: 'The eyes can't lie,'" Tolbert said. "They knew. They could look at me and tell that I had blood in my eyes. That was the motivation for the kind of output I had last weekend. I was really ticked."
That translated into consecutive scoring receptions of 6-, 12- and 35-yards beginning in the second quarter to put the game away against Alcorn, along with an earlier 5-yard rushing touchdown.
"I couldn't," Tolbert said, "have responded any better."
Nobody's expecting anything less this week from Grambling's most consistent receiver.
After all, the last time he faced A&M, Tolbert had four catches for 174 yards - including a gut-check 70-yard touchdown reception.
"You are playing before your home crowd, your family," said White. "He wants to have a great game, and we all know what he did last time."
Just for the fans
General admission tickets are available through Friday for $20; cost is $25 on the day of event. They are available at through Ticketmaster at (800) 277-1700 or www.ticketmaster.com; or through the SWAC Conference office at (205) 251-7573. … GSU coach Larry Wright, a Richwood product, will be inducted into the SWAC Hall of Fame on Friday - along with future NFL Hall of Famer Jerry Rice, who played at Mississippi Valley. … Both a pep rally and parade are scheduled for Friday in Birmingham, with music from Blood, Sweat and Tears; the bands from Grambling State and Alabama A&M; and several city high school units. … Saturday's game will also feature a live pre-game performance by Jagged Edge. Post-game activities include the "Just a Few Cats" Reunion Concert, featuring Ruben Studdard, at the Carver Theatre located in the city's historic 4th Avenue D.
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GSU expects better day from Alabama A&M
SWAC rivals don't see repeat of 44-0 rout
December 9, 2005
By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING - Alabama A&M coach Anthony Jones sat in the interview room atop the Robinson Stadium Support Facility searching for answers.
It was Sept. 10, and his team had just been shut out 44-0 by Grambling State.
He knew one thing: "We faced a team today that was far better than us," Jones said, finally. "No phase of our team responded."
Grambling had piled up 407 yards on offense, scoring three times in its first 11 plays, as the defense pitched a shutout for the first time since 1998.
A month later, A&M lost a second game - this one, a homecoming shocker to Texas Southern - to fall to 3-2 on the year.
"We're not expecting the same thing," said Grambling coach Melvin Spears.
How could they?
Those twin stumbles defined Jones' season, became A&M's rallying cry, and helped the team close out the season on a six-game winning streak to advance to Saturday's Southwestern Athletic Conference championship game.
There, the Eastern Division champ (9-2, 7-2 in the SWAC) gets a rematch with Grambling (10-1, 9-0), which clinched the West on Oct. 29. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. at Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala. The game will be televised on ESPN Classic.
"Both of (the losses) played their role," said Jones. "We lost to Grambling, but it was the manner we lost to them. Then we won two, and we went back to sleep."
Oct. 1 would mark Texas Southern's lone win of the season, but it proved just as memorable for A&M. The Bulldogs haven't faltered since.
"At that point, we put ourselves at a crossroads," said Jones. "It's an old cliche. But we had to take time to decide what we wanted to do. Our guys bought in. It was a blessing the way it happened."
A&M defense steadily moved to the top of the conference as the winning streak gained momentum.
Their offense is not dynamic, but the Bulldogs are balanced and patient. A&M's passing attack averages just 182 yards per game, fifth in the 10-team league, but quarterback Kelcy Luke has gained more than 500 yards rushing. Brother Nic Luke and Ta'Mar Scott have added another 1,300 yards.
"They can sprint out and run," said senior GSU defensive back Jermaine Mills, "so we have spent the week preparing for that."
On defense, A&M has allowed the fewest number of touchdowns in the SWAC - less than two scores per contest since driving away from Robinson Stadium on Sept. 10.
That promises a far different outcome three months later.
"We've fought," said Jones. "We've crawled our way back into this thing. And now we have an opportunity to play another ball game. We know it's almost like an honor and curse, if you will, to have this opportunity to play (Grambling) again. We'd like to show we are a much better football team than we were that day."
GSU-Alabama A&M game analysis
WHEN GRAMBLING HAS THE BALL
QB Bruce Eugene leads the league in every passing category, but he's been at his best when GSU's rushers have been healthy enough to distract defenders. The loss of FB Ruben Mayes to a knee injury could make play calling easier for A&M's defense. Brawnski Towns' aggressive units have typically led the league since the Bulldogs joined the SWAC, and they've done it with a blitz-first mentality that elicits mistakes. Eugene will have to discern a variety of disguised looks.
WHEN ALABAMA A&M HAS THE BALL
A&M will pass to keep Grambling honest, but Anthony Jones' teams like to run the ball - either with a tailback or the quarterback himself in an option look - and GSU has occasionally struggled against the rush, giving up 199 yards by Jeremy McCoy just last week. That kind of ball-control offense often keeps games close, allowing A&M an opportunity to win late. GSU's defense hopes to be effective early, since the Bulldogs will struggle mightily at playing catch up with the Tigers' "Quick 6" offensive mindset.
Not so much. Both teams have seen their kickers struggle, though A&M has only missed one point-after attempt, vs. 10 for Grambling - worst in the league. Neither has punted well, ranking in the bottom half of the SWAC. GSU is averaging 10 yards on punt returns and 22 on kickoffs, while A&M is averaging 11 and 19, respectively.
As expected, three weeks off have helped A&M heal up. DB Corey Harden, RB Ta'Mar Scott and WR Emmanuel Edwards, each of whom missed time to injury, are expected back. The Bulldogs also come into the game on a roll, having won eight of nine games since losing 44-0 to GSU. Still, several Grambling players have wondered aloud if A&M has gotten 45 points better.
Anthony Jones has his team playing with fire and grit. While he has never beaten a Grambling squad with Bruce Eugene under center, he is 1-1 against Melvin Spears. GSU fell at A&M in 2003 in its first game after Eugene suffered a season-ending knee injury. Still, Spears was the offensive coordinator for Grambling teams that won titles over A&M in 2000 and 2002 - and GSU hasn't lost a league game since falling to Alabama State on Nov. 6, 2004.
PICK: Grambling State
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Eugene is again key to win/loss
December 10, 2005
By Nick Deriso
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — There's having somebody's number. Then, there is what Grambling State quarterback Bruce Eugene has done to Alabama A&M over three seasons as a starter.
He's beaten them by multiples.
In fact, going into today's Southwestern Athletic Conference championship game, Eugene is undefeated against A&M, having thrown for a combined 1,118 yards and nine touchdowns. Three scores and 275 of those yards came in a season-opening 44-0 shellacking at Robinson Stadium this year.
"I've been going against Bruce Eugene since 2002; nobody has stopped that kid," said A&M coach Anthony Jones. "We haven't had the answer yet. I don't know if we have the answer now. He is what he is, a heck of a talent."
GSU (10-1, 9-0 in the SWAC) faces Alabama A&M (9-2, 7-2) at 1 p.m. at Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala. The game will be broadcast live on ESPN Classic.
"A&M is one of those teams that you've got to get up for," said Eugene, the conference's offensive player of the year. "They are high intensity. They like to put pressure on you. If you want to know how good of a quarterback you are, you've got to make it through a whole a game against A&M."
Much has changed for the Bulldogs since that first 2005 meeting with Grambling, as Jones reshaped his team into the Eastern Division champs by winning eight of his following nine contests.
"We played (Grambling) early in the year, and quite honestly, we weren't ready for that type of attack," said Jones. "They showed what another level of football was."
A&M's defense is now atop the conference standings, and its familiar run-oriented offense has found its footing.
"They can spread you out with (A&M quarterback) Kelcy Luke," said GSU coach Melvin Spears, whose team clinched the West on Oct. 29. "They can run the ball, they can pass the ball — and any time you run the option, anything can happen."
A&M reshuffled its secondary after that blowout: Strong safety Marcus Black moved to free safety, with Antonio Nelson replacing him. Corey Harden took over for Jonathan McConico in the starting lineup at corner.
Each has been asked once again to slow down Division I-AA's most prolific passer.
"They're not going to play us as much in zero coverage as they have in the past," said GSU offensive coordinator Sammy White. "I'm quite sure they are going to try keep us in the middle of the field, play some zone and slow it down some. That last game, we had a lot of big plays."
An effective rushing attack — something that emerged in 2004 while Eugene recovered from a season-ending knee injury — played a pivotal role. GSU finished Sept. 10 with 153 yards on the ground.
When A&M bunched up to defend against that threat, Eugene was able to feather the long ball. Henry Tolbert caught a 70-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter and a dramatic 64-yard completion in the third.
An injury to punishing GSU fullback Ruben Mayes likely changes today's play-calling dynamic.
"Bruce will have to get in there and take what they give him," said Spears.
With three months to chew on a 44-0 blowout, White said he expects a radically different look from A&M defensive coordinator Brawnski Towns, a brilliant mind known for endlessly inventive schemes. There will likely be fewer blitzes, with extra defenders shooting into the secondary, as Towns aggressively mixes up coverages.
"They know Bruce well enough by now — and they know what he can do," said White. "When they try to blitz him, Bruce has hurt them really bad."
That kind of dominance might get into the heads of some coaches and their players. Spears doesn't think that will happen with A&M, which has quietly become one of the East's dominant teams.
"They have done an outstanding job of getting ready," said Spears, who bested A&M in 2000 and 2002 SWAC title matches as offensive coordinator for former GSU coach Doug Williams. "Lo and behold, we are right back here."
Grambling vs. Ala. A&M for SWAC Championship
Kickoff: 1 p.m.
Site: Legion Field, Birmingham, Ala.
Records: GSU 10-1, 9-0 in SWAC West; Alabama A&M 9-2, 7-2 in SWAC East
TV: ESPN Classic
Radio: KNBB-99.3 FM
Series: GSU, 10-2
Last meeting: GSU, 44-0
Coaches: GSU, Melvin Spears (second year, 16-6); A&M, Anthony Jones (fourth year, 32-14; 50-27 overall)
Notes: Grambling again got 13 of 30 possible first-place votes in the Sheridan Broadcasting Network poll of black colleges, remaining in second behind Hampton — which lost two weeks ago in the I-AA playoffs to Richmond. One first place vote changed, but it went to Tuskegee, which won the Pioneer Bowl over Bowie State last week. ... CB Greg Fassitt and FB Ruben Mayes are out with injuries.
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Grambling 45, Alabama A&M 6
December 11, 2005
By Nick Deriso
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - A gritty, defensive-minded Southwestern Athletic Conference championship became a blowout when Grambling State quarterback Bruce Eugene ignited four consecutive scoring drives in the third quarter alone.
GSU (11-1, 9-0 in SWAC) had been up only by six points at the half, but surged to a 45-6 win over Alabama A&M (9-3, 7-2) for the title.
Eugene passed for six touchdowns on the day, eclipsing former Mississippi Valley star Willie Totten's SWAC and NCAA career mark for passing touchdowns - a record that had stood since 1985.
Eugene leaves Grambling with 140 career TDs over three years as a starter. Senior Henry Tolbert, a Birmingham native, also set a new school mark for TD catches in season on his way to 184 yards and four scores in an emotional homecoming.
"I never thought I'd go out like this, with all these records," said Eugene, the game's most valuable player. "I just thank God and coach for giving me the opportunity."
That third-quarter offensive explosion not only sealed the win, it sent GSU smashing through the SWAC title game record books like a bull in a china shop.
New marks were set for: passing yards (184 by Eugene); touchdown passes by a quarterback (6); passes completed (30); and receiving touchdowns (4, by Tolbert).
Records were tied for points scored (24 by Tolbert) and overall touchdowns (4 by Tolbert). GSU is now second for both total offensive yards and total receptions in a title match.
"We had to fight a little bit," said GSU's Melvin Spears, who was named SWAC Coach of the Year. "But, in the end, it was one for the ages."
A series of miscues - including a turnover and then two offsides penalties inside the 5-yard line, led to A&M's only touchdown - a 1-yard blast by running back Nic Luke with nine minutes gone in the initial period.
The touchdown meant Grambling trailed in a football game for the first time since the second half of the Mississippi Valley game on Oct. 8.
Grambling, which leads the league in penalties, would have 16 flags thrown for 146 yards - part of an ugly 212 total yards for the game.
Junior cornerback Greg Fassitt, who wasn't expected to play because of a lingering hamstring injury, picked up a red-zone fumble by A&M quarterback Kelcy Luke that killed the Bulldogs' second scoring threat late in the first quarter. Fassitt ran to the Grambling 24 before being pushed out of bounds. A&M ended 1-of-3 from the red zone.
A&M deferred after winning the game-opening toss, but GSU couldn't take advantage of the opportunity. Junior fullback Terrion Rodgers mishandled a Bruce Eugene handoff with 13:14 left in the first quarter, giving the Bulldogs possession at their own 48. A&M linebacker Johnny Baldwin recovered. Nine plays later, A&M scored the championship's first, and its only, points.
Senior defensive end Jason Hatcher of Jena put a brutal hit on Bulldogs quarterback Kelcy Luke, forcing him to throw early and miss his receiver as the third quarter ended. A&M was left with third-and-12 - and eventually turned the ball over on downs. Hatcher, who was being scouted by Larry Wright Jr. and James "Shack" Harris of the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars, finished with six tackles - including three for a loss.
DID YOU NOTICE?
The upper deck on the visiting side of Legion Field has been removed since 2002, the last time Grambling beat Alabama A&M for the Southwestern Athletic Conference championship. The over-hanging structure had been declared unsafe and led to Alabama moving all of its home games to Bryant-Denny Stadium down the road in Tuscaloosa. A monument in honor of legendary Tide coach Paul "Bear" Bryant remains in stadium's main entryway.
Neither team, it seemed could get a PAT. A&M's Jose Osario wasn't able to convert the game's first extra-point attempt midway through the first period. GSU kicker Tim Manuel, who missed four PATs last week, whiffed on his first attempt as well. Then a Grambling two-point conversion try failed in the second quarter. Manuel also had one blocked in the third quarter, ending 1-of-3.
A designed fake-punt play where the ball is snapped directly to Kuuan was again successful. Needing seven yards on a fourth down at the end of the first quarter, Kuuan dashed for 19 - giving GSU the ball on its own 46. Grambling used the same play to gain a first down earlier in the year against Mississippi Valley.
Alabama A&M 6 0 0 0- 6
GSU 6 6 27 6- 45
Alabama A&M - Nic Luke 1 run (kick failed), Drive 9 plays, 52 yards 4:15. Grambling St.-Henry Tolbert 12 pass from Bruce Eugene (kick failed), Drive 10 plays, 71 yards, 4:41.
GSU - Ab Kuuan 1 run (run failed), Drive 16 plays, 76 yards, 6:01. GSU-Tolbert 31 pass from Eugene (Tim Manuel kick), Drive 2 plays, 63 yards, :17. GSU-George Piggott 41 pass from Eugene (kick failed), Drive 3 plays, 60 yards, 1:04. GSU-Reginald Jackson 23 pass from Eugene (Eugene to Tim Abney), Drive 4 plays, 72 yards, :41 . GSU-Tolbert 12 pass from Eugene (run failed), drive 8 plays, 62 yards, 2:33.
First downs 19 30
Rushes-yards 31-152 26-110
Passing 187 473
Return yards 4 72
Comp-Att-Int 18-34-2 30-47-0
Punts-Avg. 3-39.7 1-47.0
Fumbles-lost 3-3 3-2
Penalties-yards 9-66 16-146
Time of Possession 31:32 28:28
RUSHING- Alabama A&M, Jacques Pyant 4-58, Luke 10-44, Ta'mar Scott 6-22, Kelcy Luke 6-15, Trevis O'Neal 4-13. GSU, Kuuan 11-52, Landry Carter 3-52, Keantwon Gray 1-7, Eugene 5-7, Terrion Rogers 3-4.
PASSING- Alabama A&M, Luke 18-34-2 187. GSU, Eugene 30-47-0 473.
RECEIVING- Alabama A&M, Emmanuel Edwards 6-77, Timothy Robinson 4-49, Scott 2-1, Anthony Mitchell 2-15, Pyant 1-10, John Smith 1-9, Charles Moody 1-4, Gerald Stockdale 1-2. GSU, Tolbert 11-184, Clyde Edwards 9-122, Moses Harris 4-8, Piggott 2-64, Jackson 1-23, Abney 1-18, Kuuan 1-12, Carter 1-2.
Sept. 10..........ALABAMA A&M, W 44-0*
Sept. 17......at Washington State1, L 48-71
Oct. 1..................at Prairie View, W 50-7*
Oct. 8................MISS. VALLEY, W 37-22*
Oct. 15.........at Ark.-Pine Bluff, W 26-23*
Oct. 22..........at Jackson State, W 52-21*
Oct. 29......TEXAS SOUTHERN, W 58-21*
Nov. 5..........at Alabama State, W 32-27*
Nov. 12.....................CONCORDIA, W 82-7
Nov. 26..............vs. Southern2, W 50-35*2
Dec. 3..............at Alcorn State, W 46-19*
Dec. 10........vs. Alabama A&M3, W 45-6*
* - SWAC game
1 - in Seattle
2 - in Houston
3 - SWAC Championship in Birmingham
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Records, A&M fall
GSU comes alive in 3rd for a dominating finish
December 11, 2005
By Nick Deriso
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - The third quarter would decide this championship.
Alabama A&M had expertly followed Coach Anthony Jones' script through two quarters, slowing down this Southwestern Athletic Conference title match. GSU only had the ball four times, and managed just two early scores.
That left a slim 12-6 lead as the bands played.
And Grambling coach Melvin Spears looking for answers.
He called it nerves, noting as he came off the field that quarterback Bruce Eugene and safety Jermaine Mills were the only players left from the Tigers' 2002 championship team.
"We'll settle down," he said. "They've just got to come out and play Tiger football."
Grambling had turnovers to begin and end the first half, and a rash of penalties to boot.
The jittery start painted the picture of a team that had overthought the game. Ironically, that was precisely what might have been expected of Alabama A&M - which, after all, arrived three weeks removed from its last contest.
The day had essentially been played to a draw, with the momentum tilted A&M's way since the Bulldogs' goal was to keep Eugene, the record-smashing senior, off the field.
"I was upset with the way we played in the first half," said Eugene, who missed last season after suffering a knee injury. "I wanted to come out in the third quarter and press the issue."
Now, there were signs that Grambling could stay loose enough to mount a late-game surge.
Running back Ab Kuuan and returner Landry "Blue" Carter, looking happy and confident, pretended to direct the Tiger Marching Band in its pre-game rendition of "Neck." Line coach Larry Metevia was busy recreating a familiar sight from Grambling's home locker room, the word "WIN" spelled out in trainer tape.
Even so, this third quarter will remain a moment of blinding artistry, a withering 15 minutes of football.
Grambling, see, ran just 16 plays.
And scored 28 points.
"We talked it over," said junior GSU cornerback Greg Fassitt. "We knew we could win the game if we came back out and played hard for the rest of the game."
As the period began, GSU made a quick stop. Eugene then directed a two-play, 63-yard drive to push the Grambling lead to 13. Both passes were caught by senior Henry Tolbert, a Birmingham native who would score three more times.
Next was another three and out for the Bulldogs.
Three plays later, Eugene hit George Piggott for a 41-yard touchdown pass to complete a 60-yard drive.
Just that quickly, GSU led by 19.
"The first half, we had all kind of mental errors," said Kuuan, who had scored a gutty touchdown on fourth-and-goal. "We came out in the third quarter and just executed."
Executed A&M, anyway.
A pass interference call on Grambling, another in the seemingly endless trail of yellow flags, helped A&M convert a third down on its subsequent drive. But consecutive holding calls on the Bulldogs stalled that effort, too.
"We didn't change all the much after halftime," said GSU senior defensive end Jason Hatcher. "We just kept hitting them in the mouth. We knew from playing them the first time that they would lay down."
Eugene then threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to Reginald Jackson, another Birmingham native, to cap the next GSU scoring drive. Neville High product Tim Abney added a two-point conversion catch.
Another GSU stop came next. Then another Eugene touchdown pass, again to Tolbert - who broke the school's single-season record for touchdowns in a season.
Grambling was suddenly ahead by 33 points.
And all of that was before Eugene's fourth-quarter TD pass, also to Tolbert, broke former Mississippi Valley quarterback Willie Totten's once-thought unassailable SWAC and NCAA record of 139 career touchdowns.
Grambling would win 45-6, beating Alabama A&M for a third time in the seven times the SWAC title game has been played.
Conference officials, with 45 seconds left in regulation, hustled the championship trophy down the Grambling sideline for the postgame presentation.
Decorum may have required it, but they needed not wait. This thing had been over since Grambling emerged from the locker room.
With 20 seconds left, the team let go - dancing and singing: "G-S! G-S! G-S... U! I thought you knew!"
After 11 victories in 2005, five of which featured 50 or more Grambling points, they know now.
Jones, in a hallway deep inside Legion Field, was still marveling over Eugene's staggering feat when he came across Spears.
The two men shook hands, and Jones - who beat GSU for the first time in five tries last year while Eugene was out - said: "You better not bring him back again."
Both of them laughed softly.
Outside, a fan rolled up a sign that read: "Play Grambling, Get 50."
Not quite. But good enough for a title.
GSU's season of SWAC dominance would end as it began. Alabama A&M lost to Grambling, in games played three months apart, by a combined score of 89-6.
As the team streamed into the locker room, there was no champagne, only shaken-up Coca-Cola showering down on Spears.
It was just as sweet.
The players, wearing new championship hats and shirts, broke into a raucous rendition of the old-time gospel favorite "This Little Light of Mine."
That third quarter had let them shine.
g g g
Playmaker and playcaller
December 12, 2005
By Nick Deriso
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Senior quarterback Bruce Eugene had tied the Southwestern Athletic Conference and NCAA career record for passing touchdowns as the third quarter ended on Saturday.
Grambling State wasn't in scoring position again until 5:31 was left in its SWAC Championship Game against Alabama A&M, with the score 39-6.
The usually reliable senior Henry Tolbert had just dropped what would have been a record-breaking pass on first down.
GSU coach Melvin Spears called to Eugene for a shovel pass, yelling: "Casino! Casino!"
But a season away with a knee injury changed Eugene, helping him develop into a canny player-coach after having spent so much time on the sidelines.
Eugene got to the line and, as he has all season, he surveyed the defense - then changed the call, and history with it.
Spears watched the play unfold with the wide-eyed excitement of a fan in the stands.
"He made adjustments like that all year," Spears said, chuckling. "Sometimes, the best thing to do is let the players play."
A&M had a linebacker lined up on Tolbert, a glaring mismatch.
"I knew if I threw it low to Henry, I could get it past that linebacker," said Eugene, who reinjured his knee on a late hit by the Bulldogs early in the game.
Tolbert hauled in the 12-yard touchdown pass at the 5:24 mark, and Eugene's record 140th career TD strike was in the books.
Those were also the final points of this championship, which GSU won 45-6.
"What Coach Spears has him doing is tremendous," said A&M coach Anthony Jones. "To me what makes a great coach is great players - but more importantly, great coaches understand great players. They work hand-in-hand. He knows what this kid can do and he allows him to do it."
As the sixth-year senior hobbled to the sidelines, former Grambling assistant Doug Porter found Eugene and gave him a hug.
In words that were direct, and emotionally charged, Porter told Eugene: "I love you, and I'm very proud of you."
GSU equipment manager Chuck Dawson collected the football Eugene had thrown, now a piece of Grambling lore, and hustled it to the trainer's cart.
Then Spears and Eugene embraced.
"I don't know when," said Spears, "we will see another Bruce Eugene."
Regarding Henry: It was fitting that this historic moment was shared with Tolbert, who smoked his way through the year's final two weeks.
Tolbert scored eight touchdowns over that span, all since he was insulted with second-team all-conference honors.
"Henry made a big-time catch," said Spears. "He was here to make a statement."
Tolbert - who caught three touchdowns and ran for another last week against Alcorn - capped a 10-play, 71-yard drive with a 12-yard touchdown reception from Eugene to tie the game in the first quarter.
He also made a memorable fingertip grab to convert the second of three fourth downs on GSU's next scoring drive. Junior running back Ab Kuuan leapt in on a final fourth-down try, this time from the 1-yard line, to give GSU a lead it would never relinquish.
Tolbert's third-quarter touchdown reception redeemed a fumble that stalled GSU's final drive of the first half. Then, there was the record-breaking TD grab. Tolbert's 11 catches, 184 yards and four title-game touchdowns were the crowning achievement on a thrilling junior year, he said.
Tolbert finished 2005 with 74 receptions for 1,391 yards and 19 TDs. He is now Grambling's record holder for touchdown receptions in a season.
"I can't describe it," said Tolbert. "This is a dream season. I had expectations, but nothing like this."