Wednesday, December 31, 2008

SWAC Championship Game 2008

Grambling and Jackson State have become familiar foes
By Nick Deriso
December 9, 2008

GRAMBLING — Talk about a zero-sum game.

Coaches use the 0-0 equation with numbing consistency in each postseason. The regular season records, they’ll say, mean nothing. The embodiment of that, however, is Grambling’s recent history against Jackson State.

The two teams, set to meet again on Saturday in the Southwestern Athletic Conference Championship Game, have played each other three times since October of 2007, with GSU winning twice in regular-season action.

Of course, the lone loss was the most memorable, as JSU romped to a 42-31 victory in the '07 edition of the SWAC title match.

The regular season, in fact, meant nothing.

“It’s no holds barred,” third-year Jackson State coach Rick Comegy said on Monday. “The records are out the door.”

This 2008 rematch sets up the same way, with Grambling taking another regular-season victory last October. There are important differences, though.

Whereas both 2007 matchups produced scores in bunches, a new year brought two squads together that were as good on defense as they were inconsistent on the other side of the ball.

Grambling only scored one offensive touchdown in its 14-5 regular-season victory Oct. 20 over Jackson, a 46-yard touchdown reception by Nick Lewis. Defensive back Bruna Foster sealed the game with a 34-yard interception return for a score.

JSU’s points came on a safety and a field goal, as quarterback Trae Rutland’s 20-of-34 passing day produced 255 yards but also two picks.

“I don’t know if what happened three months ago has any bearing on this game,” said coach Rod Broadway, now 18-6 in two seasons at Grambling. “Just like it didn’t last year.”

The 2007 SCG, remember, ended up as an offensive firefight led by a group of veteran playmakers, with 73 total points scored on what became a rainy December night. JSU put up 416 yards to Grambling’s 326 as Jackson captured its first league title since 1996.

GSU had previously won at Jackson, Miss., on Oct. 20, 2007, during an afternoon that included four offensive touchdowns and four field goals.

“Jackson is the one we want,” said Lewis, who hauled in a 24-yard third-quarter pass in the ‘07 title match. “That one still leaves a bad taste in our mouths.”

Comegy can’t say that those old stats hold any real meaning.

That was, you know, then.

“I don’t know if it’s about familiarity or matchups,” Comegy said, “so much as planning, cutting down on mistakes, preparing your team and knowing what kind of situation you are in.”

Today, both teams have new quarterbacks, each of whom was helped along late in the year by a stable of young rushers, to go with stifling defenses.

Much has changed. But not this: Everyone is 0-0 again.

The regular season, we’ve seen, doesn’t count. Not with these two.

“You both won each side of the conference,” Comegy said. “It becomes: What do you want to do? You become a champion, or you don’t.”

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Win in SWAC title game would be one for the books at Grambling
By Nick Deriso
December 10, 2008

GRAMBLING — It’s not often that new history is made at Grambling.

Not when the program’s most recognizable coach piled up a jaw-dropping 408 career wins and 17 conference championships.

Still, earning 11 wins in one season was a rarity even for the legendary Eddie Robinson, who coached at GSU for nearly 60 seasons. He did it just twice, in 1972 and 1974.

GSU boasts a total of 21 league crowns, and has won its division in six of the last nine tries. Its 493 football victories rank No. 2 all-time by winning percentage for historic lower-division teams, only behind Yale.

Still, the program boasts just four 11-win campaigns ever.

Second-year coach Rod Broadway and the 10-2 Grambling Tigers play for that historic victory on Saturday against Jackson State in the Southwestern Athletic Conference Championship Game. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. at Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala. The game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN Classic.

“We have a chance to step up and do something that’s special,” Broadway said. “Hopefully, this team can do something that hasn’t been done a lot around here, and that’s win 11 games.”

The most recent was in 2002 and ‘05, under Robinson successor Doug Williams and Melvin Spears, respectively.

Even if GSU were to lose, the program has reached the 10-win plateau only 10 other times, with eight of them under Robinson (1945, ‘47, ‘55, ‘73, ‘75, ‘77, ‘80 and 1992). Williams, the quarterback on those 1975 and ‘77 squads, later reached the 10-victory mark as a coach at GSU in 2000-01.

Broadway is already the first Grambling coach to go undefeated in SWAC play since 2005, and just the second since Robinson did it in the early 1990s.

One more win would likely secure the mythical National Black College Championship for Broadway’s squad – just the fourth for GSU since 2000. Grambling moved to the top of the Sheridan Broadcasting Network’s black college football poll last week with its victory over Southern and a loss by former-No. 1 Tuskegee to Alabama State.

“There’s a big difference between good and great,” Broadway said. “One more win puts us in high cotton.”

Broadway enters this title match on a remarkable run, dating back to his final seasons at Division II North Carolina Central. He has lost just three conference games in five seasons, and has won 10 times in three out of the last four campaigns.

Saturday, in fact, marks his fourth consecutive league title match – though Broadway also oversaw Grambling’s first-ever loss in five appearances at the Southwestern Athletic Conference Championship Game last season.
GSU won in 2000-02, under Williams, and again in ‘05 under Spears.

“Hopefully we can go 3-1,” Broadway said. “That’s a tribute to this staff, which has done some marvelous things over the past few years.”

Broadway also has a chance to preserve a key piece of Grambling history in Saturday’s game.

Jackson State is attempting to capture consecutive wins in the SWAC title match, something only one other team has done since the contest’s inception in 1999 – GSU. Southern advanced to two straight championship games in 2002-03, but fell the second season to Alabama State.

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Things are looking 'better' for Grambling's Broadway
Posted by NickDeriso at 12/10/2008 8:05 AM CST on

No one is going to accuse Rod Broadway of being an effusive guy. You've got to drag him, kicking and screaming, into a kind word about his Grambling football teams.

Not many would guess that he's having all that much fun, either. Not from the pained look he sometimes has when dealing with the pesky press.

He usually sticks with the script in these moments, always talking about improving -- even as his squad strung together nine wins this season. To the point where it's a running joke that every news conference of his begins with someone asking some variation on a theme: "Is your team getting better?," "Are you a good team yet?," so on.

The fact is, though, that Broadway's group hit a plateau last season as it clinched the SWAC's Western Division crown. They dropped three in a row to end the year, including the in-state Bayou Classic rivalry game and the Southwestern Athletic Conference Championship Game against Jackson State.

They didn't, and fans of the coach's favorite phraseology will love this, keep getting better.

Fast forward one calendar year. Another SWAC crown on the line, JSU again the opponent. But a whole different attitude.

"They've stayed focused; they’ve stayed in the now," Broadway said, looking loose and enthused. "This has really been a fun group to be around, and a fun group to coach, and an exciting group to watch."

Grambling isn't taking its foot off the gas going into the league's title match. I've seen, yes, improvement across every unit. That's made it easier for Broadway to admit some things. Like, say, that he's got a good team.

The "fun" part? A hush falls over the assembled media. But that's actually a reflection of how comfortable Broadway has become in his role at Grambling, and far more reflective of his natural demeanor away from cameras and microphones.

Still, hearing it leads me to believe that Broadway must really like his chances. That is, all together now, if his team keeps improving.

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Grambling, Jackson State quarterbacks took winding paths to title match
By Nick Deriso
December 10, 2008

GRAMBLING — No one, through the first month of the season, saw this coming.

Jackson State and Grambling, fresh off a shared trip to the 2007 Southwestern Athletic Conference Championship Game, had lost their starting quarterbacks.

Had struggling replacements in Trae Rutland and Greg Dillon, respectively.

Had just one win a piece.

That '07 title match couldn't have been receding faster in the rearview mirror.

Something clicked, however, for both teams. It started with both quarterbacks.

Rutland threw three touchdowns passes and seven picks in Jackson State's initial four games. He's only thrown one interception since, shooting to No. 4 in the league for completion percentage.

Dillon, meanwhile, was thrust into the No. 1 spot when fourth-year starter Brandon Landers was declared ineligible on the eve of the fall practices — then benched for Missouri transfer J.P. Tillman. He finally regained the job after a breakout Grambling win in Dallas against Prairie View.

"Brandon was a big part of our team," Dillon said. "I knew that was going to hurt us a lot, because he was so experienced. We just tried to work it out."

It wouldn't be easy. Both Landers and departed Jackson State quarterback Jimmy Oliver played cornerstone roles in getting their teams to the championship game of a season ago — and during the contest itself.

Landers, in what seemed like a turning point, threw two touchdowns passes and a pair of 2-point conversions over just 32 seconds as the second half began.

Oliver couldn't be stopped, however, as he tossed a trio of passing scores and repeatedly scrambled away from Grambling defenders to make tongue-wagging plays downfield.

JSU would win 42-31, securing its 16th SWAC football title and first since 1996.

"Jackson State is a good football team," second-year Grambling coach Rod Broadway said. "They played us very tough last year. Next week is going to be a big one."

Rutland had briefly contended for the starting role at Jackson in 2007, throwing for 302 yards, four interceptions and no touchdowns before Oliver took a firm grasp on the role.

A season later, Rutland, like Dillon, was thrust into the spotlight in the 11 th hour.

A.J. McKenna, from Lackawanna College, took most of the snaps with the No. 1 JSU offense last spring. But by the fall, both McKenna and Hinds Community College transfer Terrence Barnes had left the team.

Rutland, then as now nursing a bad shoulder, subsequently found himself — as had Dillon — contending with yet another talented transfer from the upper classification, former Louisiana Tech quarterback Michael Mosley.

Rutland "has a strong desire to be the man," third-year Jackson State coach Rick Comegy said as fall practices began. "He's going to have to be our leader."

Like Dillon's GSU squad, Rutland and Jackson State sputtered early. Grambling started 1-2, while JSU was once 1-4.

No surprise, really. Questions at quarterback don't usually lead to title game berths.

Except in a weakened Southwestern Athletic Conference, where it did for both the Eastern and Western divisional champions.

JSU, winners now of six in a row, enters Saturday's contest boasting a 7-4 mark, but without a single victory over a team with a winning record in 2008. The 10-2 Grambling has reeled off nine straight victories — seven of them against SWAC foes.

Even so, there is no denying either player's steady maturation. Rutland and Dillon have found a way, no matter the level of competition, to win.

"We're proud of Greg," Broadway said. "We lost Brandon two weeks before the season, so we came in here with a lot of inexperience at quarterback. To be able to win 10 ballgames, that's a great testament to our team."

Dillon, a product of the Mayzant projects in Bogalusa, secured his place in this season's storybook ride with a do-anything performance 70 miles down the road at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans.

Running for 136 yards and a score while passing for 151 and another, Dillon helped spark a stirring 29-14 comeback last week over Southern. Grambling had to overcome that two-touchdown deficit to earn a rematch opportunity against JSU.

Dillon, who wore "May" and "Zant" on his eye black for the Bayou Classic as a tribute to his humble beginnings, wasn't a celebrated prospect. He walked on at ULM, where the coaches wanted him to play defensive back, before transferring.

Yet his role in two game-changing drives that put Grambling ahead for good against Southern can't be overstated.

Dillon made consecutive passes to Nick Lewis on a two-play, 51-yard scoring drive to pull GSU within 2, then ran for 32 of the next drive's 51 yards to earn a lead that he never relinquished.

"His creativeness with his feet killed us," Southern coach Pete Richardson said afterward. "He did a good job."

Dillon was named the Bayou Classic's most valuable player after accounting for 77 percent of Grambling's total offense — a sterling performance only dulled slightly by two early turnovers.

"Greg is developing into a very good player for us," Broadway said. "He's learning how to manage the game. If he can protect the ball, we will be in pretty good shape. He's gotten better and better. He just has to eliminate turnovers."

Dillon, so far, has remained unscathed despite his slashing style of play, and that is where the storylines with his counterpart at Jackson State diverge.

Rutland, battling tendinitis in his shoulder, had to share time with Mosley in Jackson's most recent game, a win over in-state rival Alcorn State — but doesn't appear to be jeopardy of losing his starting job, if healthy.

Rutland completed 8 of 10 passes for 72 yards, adding 17 rushing yards and a touchdown, as JSU built a 21-point lead — only to sit out during a second-half skid where Mosely and Co. went three-and-out five times and gave the ball back on a pick. Alcorn pulled to 26-21 before finally falling in the 16th Annual Capital City Classic.

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For Grambling, neither rain nor sleet ...
Posted by NickDeriso at 12/12/2008 7:43 AM CST on

You might have suspected, as torrential downpours and teeth-splinteringly frigid winds beset the Grambling football players this week, that they simply took their football practices inside.

Maybe did some walk throughs in the warm comfort of a basketball gym, and cursed the fates.


“We practiced anyway,” said sophomore quarterback Greg Dillon. “We tried to do it the same as usual. Being out in the cold and rain might give us a better feel for the weather in Birmingham.”

Will it ever. Most times, historic Legion Field is a wintry windstorm of a place by the time the Southwestern Athletic Conference holds its annual December championship game. Last season, a rumbling storm blew through as GSU completed the second half of action against Jackson State.

Dillon and his teammates, preparing for a rematch against Jackson on Saturday, got a taste of both this week in practice.

“It been cold here the last few days, that’s for sure,” he said. “But with the rain and all, hopefully that’s prepared us a lot. I think we’re ready for it.”

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Jackson State overcame slow start to reach SWAC rematch
By Nick Deriso
December 12, 2008

Jackson State, once again, started slowly this season.

A year ago, as JSU secured its first Southwestern Athletic Conference championship since 1996, Rick Comegy’s squad dropped its initial pair of contests – including a 16-13 heartbreaker against Tennessee State in the Southern Heritage Classic.

Many left them for dead. But Jackson would lose only two more games in 2007, one of them to Grambling, before beating GSU in a December 2007 rematch for the league crown.

Current starting quarterback Trae Rutland was a backup back then, playing in eight games and throwing for 302 yards. Even losing its starter, however, Jackson was picked to repeat as the SWAC’s Eastern Division champion in preseason polling.

As was Grambling. One month into the season, both teams had combined for two victories.

Rutland, a Mississippi State transfer, struggled in his first outings. JSU opened at 1-4 – while managing 18 or fewer points in each of its first four contests. Through Jackson’s conference opener, a loss to Southern, Rutland had seven interceptions on a team ranked ninth in the conference for turnover margin.

“I’m just glad,” Comegy, in his third year with JSU, said, “that we were able to find ourselves later on in the year.”

JSU’s offense switched from a spread look to a run-first attack in late October, steadying Rutland while springing rusher Luther Edwards. Edwards instantly ran for more than 80 yards a game over the balance of that month.

But, just as importantly, Jackson State’s defense came to life.

“We were scrounging around early, trying to find the right combination,” Comegy said. “Things changed for the best.”

Jackson enters Saturday’s title contest ranked No. 1 in the league for total offense (233 yards ppg), No. 2 in rush defense (73 yards ppg), No. 1 in pass defense (161 yards ppg) and No. 2 in sacks – besting opponent Grambling in each of those categories.

Along the way, JSU linebacker Marcellus Speaks, announced as the league’s defensive player of the year on Wednesday, compiled 115 tackles (54 solo; 20.5 for loss), along with 5 sacks, one interception, two forced fumbles, and one blocked kick while leading this team to the SWAC Championship Game for the second consecutive time.

“We’ll try to get a hat on a hat,” second-year Grambling coach Rod Broadway said, when asked about slowing Speaks. “Hopefully, we can do that. They play good defense down there. I don’t see whole lot of points getting scored.”

Speaks, who earned conference defensive player of the week honors three times this season, had six games with at least 10 tackles this season – including 14 at Grambling on Sept. 20. His season high was 16 tackles (with one for loss and an assist on a sack) against Southern on Oct. 4.

That pushed JSU to six straight victories to close out the 2008 regular season, and a chance to win its first consecutive SWAC championships since 1995-96.

“I’m happy we got to a peak point,” Comegy said. “It was late, but I am happy that we got there. We’ve come of age.”

Comegy hasn’t dealt with complacency from his defending-champion players, he said, not in the wake of such a disappointing start on the season. He added that a chance to claim back-to-back crowns is its own carrot.

“What young man doesn’t want to be a champion?” Comegy asked, rhetorically. “There are very few guys who are ever in this position. They ought to feel blessed and honored. As far as excitement, it ought to be built into the formula.”

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OPENING DRIVE: Grambling (10-2, 7-0 SWAC) vs. Jackson State (7-4, 6-1)
By Nick Deriso
December 13, 2008

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — A titanic defensive battle is in the offing, featuring the Southwestern Athletic Conference’s two hottest teams: Grambling was won nine straight headed into this title game, while Jackson State has won six.

GSU, sparked by playmaking sophomore quarterback Greg Dillon, hasn’t had a contest decided by fewer than two scores over that span. Dillon has passed for 1,500 yards and 15 scores, while maintaining his spot as the team’s No. 2 rusher.

“He has some ability to do some things like running the ball and throwing the ball,” said second-year Grambling coach Rod Broadway. “It’s hard for a defense to prepare for a guy like that.”

Jackson State, however, might just be that defense. Opponents have averaged just over two touchdowns over their six-win streak.

As thrilling as Dillon’s improvisations outside the structure of Grambling’s called plays can be, he must do a better job of securing the ball.

Sometimes, he tries to do too much: All of that was on display in GSU’s in-state rivalry victory against Southern, where Dillon won the game’s MVP trophy, but not before two turnovers that helped put Grambling in a 14-point hole.

These two teams combined for fewer than three total touchdowns in a gritty regular-season meeting earlier this year, and this contest shapes up to be no different.

Grambling and Jackson are ranked in the Top 5 in every meaningful SWAC defensive categories, and in the Top 15 for scoring defense nationally.

“I don’t see a whole lot of points being scored in this ballgame; at least, that’s what I hope,” Broadway said.

“We expect the same type of defensive game.”

Jackson State coach Rick Comegy said this week that he wasn’t going to commit one player to track Dillon, though a linebacker like Marcellus Speaks would make a good spy.

Rangy, with a nasty ability to hit, Speaks has a SWAC-leading 115 total tackles. He’s joined on a tough unit that includes defensive end Marcus Benard (15 sacks, 22.5 tackles for loss) and defensive back Domonique Johnson (four interceptions, 13 pass breakups).

GSU’s still-coalescing offense will have its collective hands full.

Grambling has advanced to its second title match in as many seasons under Broadway, and its sixth since 2000, but lost this contest last year to Jackson State. That gave JSU its 16th league title.

A victory for GSU would extend its league-leading title haul to 22, and also secure the program’s fifth 11-win season ever — and first since 2005 under Melvin Spears.

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22nd to none: Grambling sitting pretty, winning ugly
Column by Nick Deriso
December 14, 2008

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Grambling, throughout this season, won ugly.

But it won.

“You say we won ugly,” second-year GSU coach Rod Broadway said on Saturday, “but it’s a sweet taste to us.”

GSU did whatever it had to in an effort to secure victory. On offense, on defense, on Saturday after Saturday.

And it won.

Jackson State endured a familiar fate in the Southwestern Athletic Conference Championship Game, as GSU claimed a league-leading 22nd crown.

Grambling’s offense sputtered and missed. But JSU never got close, as the defense strangled another victim.

Foes, all season, would slowly find themselves on the losing end of things, while GSU closed its fingers around their scoring chances.

It was more gritty than pretty. It didn’t need to be.

Grambling won, as it had the week before. And the week before that. They did it eight, nine and then 10 times in a row after Saturday’s 41-9 victory over JSU.

“You don’t win by looking pretty,” said junior Grambling end Christian Anthony, the game’s defensive most valuable player. “You win by getting ugly.”

They did.

This isn’t a finesse team, even on offense – where the rangy quarterback Greg Dillon makes out-of-body plays.

He led the unit to two quick touchdowns to open the title match. But, just like that, Grambling’s offense went ice cold for a time on this frigid December afternoon – missing an extra point, missing on a few scoring opportunities, missing a field goal to end the second period.

The defense never surrendered an inch: JSU failed to reach the end zone through the first two quarters.

When the bands marched out onto the Legion Field’s turf, “13-0” was blinking above their heads on the scoreboard.


But Grambling’s defense loves wins like this. They’ve embraced ugliness.

That wasn’t their slogan – instead, they repeated “Finish!,” after getting tripped up in the 2007 title match by Jackson – but it should have been.

Grambling built that slight lead by limiting JSU to 127 yards of first-half offense; Jackson never reached the GSU red zone over the initial two periods.

It got worse for JSU. The Grambling defense emerged from the locker room with a furious abandon. When the championship contest was over JSU had coughed up the ball five times, twice on fumbles and another three times on picks.

Jackson managed only 53 total yards rushing, 168 yards passing – minus that 66-yard touchdown reception, it was just over the century mark – and its lowest scoring output since, well, Grambling beat JSU 15-5 back on Sept. 20.

That one was ugly, too.

But Grambling won.

Credit Broadway, a collegiate defensive lineman and former Florida line coach. Credit coordinator Cliff Yoshida, a quietly efficient taskmaster.

Credit this streaking star of a linebacker Keefe Hall (who had a clutch early pick, just two Saturdays after taking defensive Bayou Classic MVP honors), the fiery presence of rover Jeffery Jack, the knifing edge rush of Christian Anthony (who added a thrilling first-half sack), the big-play brilliance of defensive backs like T.J. McCord (who almost scored on a third quarterback pick) and Kenneth Anio (who completed the scoring with a dramatic 85-yard touchdown return on a pick).

Credit them all: This was a group effort. An ugly one, done as one.

“They’re really confident in what they are doing,” said Yoshida, who with Broadway has claimed three conference titles in four years dating back to their tenure at North Carolina Central. “They think they can stop anybody. And they did.”

They never thought about last year. They never thought about how it looked.

“We won ugly all year,” Hall said. “Man, I’m actually proud of that.”

That means doing whatever it takes to win. No matter how it looks.

The SWAC trophy, named for Grambling coaching legend Eddie Robinson, is just as shiny. The tears just as real. The familiar chants of “I thought you knew!” echo just as loudly.

Sure, this championship was won despite an offense that scarcely resembles the torrid point-scorers of Grambling’s storied past.

Yet, the truth is, GSU didn’t need that kind of production. Not with this crew of quarterback-hassling, pass-thieving, run-stuffing scene stealers.

GSU’s offense struggled through a rebuilding year, meaning there were only scattered, embryonic successes.

But Grambling won, primarily through the force of its defensive will.

For me on Saturday, and all season, this group stirred up the ghosts of Fred Collins’ fearsome Trees of Terror from yesteryear at Grambling, gnashing and grinding until opponents simply crumple.

Their connective legacy – fearsome and, yes, ugly – was never more obvious than during a three-possession, early-second half sequence at Legion Field, keyed by a remarkable defensive stand.

JSU recovered a Terrance Dunn fumble on the initial possession of the third quarter at the GSU 34. Grambling’s defense shrugged it off, holding Jackson to a field goal.

One play later, David Stuckman tore through the JSU special teams, pushing the score 20-3 on a 91-yard kickoff return for Grambling.

“That was the turning point,” said third-year Jackson State coach Rick Comegy. “Then we started turning the ball over. We just couldn’t regain that emotion.”

JSU quarterback Trae Rutland was simply run over on his next try, a possession which went: Devastating sack by Otis Young, devastating sack by Melvin Matthews, devastating interception by T. J. McCord – who returned the ball to the JSU 3.
Dillon then hit Kiare Thompson for their second touchdown to push Grambling’s lead to 24 points.

The defensive line called themselves “Trench Dogs” this year. On Saturday, they dug a ravine – then tossed Jackson in.

GSU’s offense had another hiccup when Dillon turned it over again, flinging an interception to the JSU 2 late in the third period. But Grambling, as per usual, forced a quick three-and-out.

“After that,” said Matthews, the senior Grambling defensive tackle, “I knew they were finished.”

Jackson State managed a 66-yard touchdown on a broken passing play, this one coming from Louisiana Tech transfer Michael Mosley, but it was far too little, far too late. GSU then held Jackson out on a two-point conversion attempt, and added Anio’s touchdown return for a touchdown.

This defense would not be denied. Not this year. Not on this day.

Ugly or not, Grambling had won, placing the capstone on the fifth-ever 11-win season at Grambling.

“You can label it whatever you like: Pretty, ugly, whatever,” Broadway added, bristling some. “We’ve got a lot of them, and you can’t take that from us.”

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SWAC Championship notebook: There was another title at stake
By Nick Deriso
December 15, 2008

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Saturday’s 41-9 victory in the 10th edition of the Southwestern Athletic Conference Championship Game meant more than returning the Eddie Robinson Trophy to Grambling.

It likely earned GSU, who entered the title match ranked No. 1 in the Sheridan Broadcasting Network poll, a 13th national black college title.

“We knew with a win, we would be national champions,” said second-year Grambling coach Rod Broadway. “That’s a good feeling.”

GSU last won a national black college crown in 2005, under Melvin Spears. It also claimed the mythical title in 1955, 1967, 1972, 1974-75, 1977, 1980, 1983 and 1992 (all led by Robinson), and in 2000-01 (under successor Doug Williams), according to the current Grambling media guide.

Broadway has a series of incentives tied into earning the Western Division, SWAC and national black college titles built into his contract, which was updated and extended in the offseason.

Grambling extended its league lead with a 22nd conference championship on Saturday. GSU has topped the SWAC’s Western Divison six times since 2000.

Grambling’s defense, the league’s most opportunistic, opened the title match with yet another turnover.

That was a sign of things to come, as GSU forced five of them.

Lance Castleberry’s first-quarter fumble recovery gave Grambling the ball at the Jackson 48 just three minutes into the game. GSU then marched down to score the contest’s initial points.

In all, Grambling defenders intercepted three passes on Saturday, returning them for a total of 113 yards. T.J. McCord accounted for 28, while Kenneth Anio’s 85-yard dash to the end zone completed Saturday’s scoring.

“It was a good old-fashioned butt kicking,” said third-year Jackson State coach Rick Comegy.

Perhaps the most dramatic Grambling pick came courtesy of Keefe Hall, who basically fielded a punt when Christian Anthony forced JSU quarterback Trae Rutland into a pass that went straight up.

Standing at the GSU 20, Hall had to locate the football, then prepare for the coming onslaught of Jackson tacklers.

“It seemed like it was in the air forever,” said Hall, who posted a team-leading 8 total tackles. “I knew I was going to get hit. I just started holding my breath.”

Grambling’s King Beckwith also recovered a fumble.

Rutland, in his post-game remarks, looked like a player who had been digging his way out all day – only to get deeper.

“We knew it would be a defensive battle,” said Rutland, who was 7-of-15 for just 90 yards. “They just got the best of us. They got to the ball well, and just kept putting us in a bad spot.”

Jackson State’s average field position was its own 31. Only two drives started in Grambling territory, and neither ended in touchdowns.

Grambling coach Rod Broadway insisted throughout the run up to this SWAC Championship Game rematch that the opponent meant little.

He repeated that mantra after Saturday’s emotional win over Jackson State, one season after falling 42-31 at the same Legion Field venue.

“Last year was last year,” Broadway said. “Every year is a new beginning; every game is a new beginning. We tried to focus on that all year.”

Broadway’s players didn’t necessarily toe into the company line.

“This one is just that much more special,” senior defender Melvin Matthews said, “because it was Jackson State.”

Matthews was a little used backup on Grambling’s most recent SWAC title-winning team, back in his freshman campaign of 2005. That, too, added a personal dimension to the journey.

“For me, it’s so special, to leave out the way I came in – on top,” he said.

Matthews – who had a career on par with NFL defender Jason Hatcher, but with far less fanfare – made a critical sack during a three-and-out that seemed to sap the fight from Jackson State as the second-half began.

Versatile sophomore Grambling quarterback Greg Dillon won his second most-valuable player trophy in as many weeks, though in a more conventional manner.

GSU shot out of the gate with a pass-first attack, as Dillon threw for 103 of his 145 total yards by air in the first half.

A shoulder injury took him out of the game briefly in the second period, but Dillon returned. He finished 13-of-19 for three touchdowns, adding one rushing score.

Compare that with his do-everything night against Southern two Saturdays ago, when Dillon accounted for 77 percent of GSU’s total offensive yards. He was second for team rushes in the Bayou Classic, but actually ran for zero net yards against Jackson.

Sophomore running back Frank Warren rushed for 82 yards, many of them critical. He zipped to a 24-yard rush on the second-quarter drive where Dillon got dinged up and left the game. Earlier in the first period, with GSU pinned at its own 7, Warren ran for 29 yards on first down. Eight plays later, Grambling scored. … GSU was on the home side of Legion Field for the first time since its 2005 SWAC Championship Game victory over Alabama A&M. The Tigers were on the visitor’s side, opposite the press box, in 2006 for a loss in the SWAC-MEAC Challenge and then again in 2007 as GSU dropped its first SWAC Championship Game in five tries since 2000. … Grambling was stellar on returns, taking JSU kickoffs back 398 yards, averaging 57 per attempt.

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Memorable celebration envelopes Grambling after SWAC title win
Posted by NickDeriso at 12/15/2008 6:46 AM CST on

Sometimes the celebration of a championship is just as entertaining as the game itself.

Grambling’s sidelines, as Saturday’s 41-9 thrashing of Jackson State wound down, dissolved into a raucous party – with tears and hollers, brawny singing, emotional hugs and high fives.

Linebacker Keefe Hall, while multiple coaches got the ice-bucket treatment, fell to the Legion Field turf and began to make a mock snow angel.

Others, including quarterback Greg Dillon, raced to the fences surrounding the field to be with family. Many were so busy posing for pictures that they missed the final points of the game, when Kenneth Anio raced nearly the length of the field to score on an interception return.

Only the roar of the crowd drew their attention back to what football was left to play. As the final cheers grew louder, a Grambling fan held a sign that read: “Eddie Robinson Should be Proud Now,” in honor of the ESPN Classic broadcast.

Dillon got doused with Gator-ade. Charlie Brewer joined other teammates standing on a bench who were leading the Grambling faithful in cheers.

League representatives quickly rushed onto the field to prepare for the post-game awards ceremony. A boxful of hats reading “SWAC Champions 2008-2009,” placed at midfield, was snatched up in a matter of moments.

Jeffrey Jack, who wore eye black that read “my” and “time,” stood fidgeting just outside the roped area where the SWAC’s championship trophy, named in honor of Grambling legend Eddie Robinson, had been placed. He'd transferred from LSU only to endure a losing season, then a heartbreaking loss in the conference title match.

“Can I just hold it?,” said Jack, who had a team-tying eight stops. “Can I kiss it? That’s all I want!”

Then … he did.

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