Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The time that Grambling played McNeese at home

GSU-McNeese: Something's got to give
September 17, 2003

Grambling State's quarterback is leading Division I-AA in total offense. McNeese State's pass defense is No. 2 in the nation.

Something's got to give on Saturday, as GSU - just days after an emotional win over the Southwestern Athletic Conference defending Eastern champion Alabama A&M - faces McNeese, Division I-AA's top-rated team, at home.

"I think it's good for Grambling," Grambling State coach Doug Williams said at his weekly news conference, "and I think it's good for the state of Louisiana to have this game here this weekend."

McNeese's 52-20 opening-night drubbing of the Tigers in Lake Charles changed the 2002 season for both.

GSU won the next 10 games on its way to a third straight SWAC title. The Cowboys would go on to become the national Division I-AA runner-up.

Turnovers and youthful mistakes contributed to the lopsided score, the Tigers' coach said.

"We're a much better team than we were last year at this time. In order to win against a team like McNeese," Williams said, "you can't afford to turn the ball over five times. We turned it over in positions where they could make plays and take advantage of it, too. At halftime, the score was 21-14. It wasn't like it was over with. The wheels came off in the second half."

The most significant difference for Grambling State is quarterback Bruce Eugene, who was benched after his flameout against the Cowboys last season. Eugene had completed just four passes on 22 attempts for 125 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions, against McNeese State.

His second chance at starting came only after freshman Gary Cooper was injured in the second quarter of the Tigers' Week 2 matchup against Alcorn State.

Eugene went on become a Walter Payton Award Finalist and Southwestern Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year. In 13 games, Eugene averaged 342.7 yards a game.

He enters Saturday's contest as the team's starter under center - and its unquestioned leader. After accounting for five touchdowns for a second week, Eugene garnered his second consecutive SWAC player of the week honor. Individually, Eugene accounted for 458 offensive yards, more than the opponents' total - Alabama A&M had 367.

The McNeese State defense, meanwhile, is giving up just 67.7 yards per game in the air.

Again, something has to give. Williams seems thrilled at the challenge.

"Yesterday, we talked about the impact of this game," Williams said. "We feel like, in I-AA football, this is the biggest game in the country. There's the LSU-Georgia game, then there's the McNeese-Grambling game. It's a good matchup."

Morgan is a kick: Junior GSU kicker Brian Morgan was named SWAC specialist player of the week after going 6-for-6 in point-after attempts and adding a 21-yard field goal.

"Morgan is kicking the ball better now than he did as a freshman - when he was a phenom," Williams said.

Morgan was named SWAC freshman of the year in 2001. His nine points on Saturday were part of a 45-14 victory over Alabama A&M in a rematch of the 2000 and 2002 SWAC championship games.

If it's possible, Morgan played an even bigger role in Monday's practices - generally a tough outing where the team works on conditioning through rigorous running drills.

Williams told the team that if Morgan made a 52-yard field goal, they could stop the drills.

"Everybody ran up to Brian and hugged him," Williams said. "They knew it was over."

It was: "Morgan hit it."

A funny show, period: Williams was a guest on the FOX network's "Best Damn Sports Show Period" on Monday night, sitting in front of a case filled with momentos from his successful turn as coach at Grambling State.

"Are you sitting in a trophy store?" co-host Tom Arnold joked, upon seeing several shiny pieces behind Williams - including one his three Southwestern Athletic Conference championships.

The segment began with a short discussion on the fading hopes that suspended Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett would consider a transfer to GSU. But it took a predictably humorous turn when a housefly continued to buzz the former Super Bowl MVP's head.

"I must be too sweet!" Williams joked on the program, which aired at 8 p.m. Monday.

The next day, he was still chuckling about the segment, filmed before practice on campus.

"Did you see me fighting that fly?" he said. "That was crazy."

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This season, GSU is settled in
· Tigers' game with McNeese State in 2002 came at a bad time - the season opener.
September 19, 2003

GRAMBLING - Somebody was going to say it. We knew that.

Might as well be Grambling State coach Doug Williams: "What a difference a year makes."

Division I-AA runner-up McNeese State travels to Grambling on Saturday as the Tigers try to avenge last year's Week 1 52-20 loss. Kickoff for GSU's home opener is set for 6:30 p.m. Both teams enter the rematch at 2-1, and both are ranked nationally in I-AA.

"The difference this year is that it's our fourth ballgame," Williams said. "Compare that to last year, where we only had seven guys who had started. Nobody knew which direction we were going. It was more of a wake-up call for us than anything."

While the Southwestern Athletic Conference champions continue a rebuilding process that had only just begun in 2002, their Saturday opponent isn't all that much different.

"If ain't broke," Williams said, pulling out another cliché, "don't fix it, you know? McNeese, I think, proved that they had an excellent football team by going to the championship game. They caught us early, and gave us a reason to go forward. Sometimes you need a wake-up call, and we got it."

The McNeese offense is led by junior quarterback Scott Pendarvis, who earned Southland Conference player of the week honors for his opening-night performance this year against Henderson State.

"McNeese is a team that makes very few mistakes," said GSU offensive coordinator Melvin Spears. "They are a very controlled, possession-type offense - with an outstanding defense. They force you to make mistakes, then they capitalize."

The Cowboys balance their attack with senior tailback Vick King.

"Their tailback is an excellent runner," said Tiger defensive coordinator Heishma Northern. "He runs hard and low to the ground - and never stops his feet."

King was honored as the SLC's offensive player of the week after rushing for 147 yards against Georgia Southern last Saturday - pushing his career total to 2,145 yards and becoming the No. 8 runner in school history.

"The quarterback throws the ball no more than 18-20 times, then they want to give it to Vick King," Spears said. "That's where they want it to be, in King's hands."

The Cowboys, coached by McNeese graduate Tommy Tate, succeeded last season, Williams said, by utilizing a wicked bootleg. "We were not able to cope with that," he said. "We had a bunch of young linebackers who hadn't seen it."

Grambling's defense has been working on a more controlled rush, stressing awareness of the passing lanes.

"A lot of people try to attack us with boots, because we are so aggressive," Northern said. "San Jose and Alcorn did a good job with the shuttle pass. Hopefully, we can have a night like we had against (Alabama) A&M again."

The Tigers so confused and rattled the Bulldogs' starter that Timothy Robinson was benched at the half.

Defensively, the Cowboys are led by All-American linebacker Roderick Royal, tackle John Paul Jones and linebacker Keith Smith.

"We're going up against one of the top pass defenses in the country," Williams said. "They put a lot of pressure on the quarterback up the middle."

In Lake Charles last year, Eugene completed just four passes for 125 yards, had two picks and was sacked three times. His debut against San Jose in 2003 was a similar debacle.

But, in both cases, he rebounded. Eugene has been responsible for six touchdown passes and four rushing scores in the last two weeks alone. He leads I-AA in total offense.

"McNeese may think we are approaching this as a revenge game, but we are approaching it the same way we approach every game - one by one," an understandably confident Eugene said. "We just happen to have McNeese in the fourth week. We've just got to go in and take care of business."

Tate has seen the progression.

"He's a better football player this year," the Cowboys' coach said of Eugene, "although last year, he was obviously a good player. He can throw the ball; he has receivers who can catch the ball with a lot of speed. He breaks tackles then throws the ball as far as he needs to. We'll have to contain the pocket against them."

Tiger bites: McNeese's Royal is one of 16 players who have been named to the Buck Buchanan Award watch list. The I-AA defensive honor is named after a former Grambling State player. … Sophomore GSU quarterback Gary Cooper - last year's starter at McNeese - made a rare appearance last week, mopping up in a lopsided win over Alabama A&M. He completed 1-of-2 passes for 4 yards in his first action since a September 2002 game against Tennessee State. … McNeese has not lost a game to the current members of the SWAC. The Cowboys are 3-0 against Prairie View A&M, 2-0 against Alcorn State and 1-0 vs. GSU.

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GSU defense to be tested again
September 20, 2003

GRAMBLING - Expectations were already high for a Grambling State defense that senior linebacker Antoine Smith says had sometimes been accused of underachieving in 2002.

Then came a blowout 2003 season opener and the sudden departure of the Tigers' defensive coordinator, Michael Roach, due to personal reasons.

But the unit never faltered - and, truth be told, kept even the San Jose State contest close until a weary fourth quarter.

"We've overcome a lot of adversity," says Smith, who's been second in team tackles for the past two weeks. "And I believe we will continue to do that, because we have confidence. We have faith in our coach, that he will put us in the right position - and we have faith in each other."

The pressure cooker gets a little warmer for new coordinator Heishma Northern's unit today as Division I-AA's top-ranked team arrives for Grambling State's home opener. Kickoff against McNeese - which, like GSU, is 2-1 - is set for 6:30 p.m. at Robinson Stadium.

Through three games, the GSU defense has held opponents to just 17 total first-half points, allowing the offense to find its rhythm. That finally happened in Week 2, and the Tigers have won each game since.

"They got off to a shaky start, but they have improved a lot since then," says McNeese coach Tommy Tate, now in this fourth year with the Cowboys. "They are a very good football team, fast and physical."

A similar, smothering performance is required for Grambling State to have a chance at avenging last year's 52-20 opening-day loss against the Cowboys.

"They run the football well," says GSU head coach Doug Williams. "That's how they control the tempo. If you control the running back, you control the game. McNeese also does a great job with bootleg passes. We're getting better at stopping that."

Much of the credit for this unit's early success can be given to Northern. One of Williams' original hires, "Heish" had worked primarily with the defensive backs - where he had once been an All-Southwestern Athletic Conference performer at Southern University.

"He's a very good coach. He studies the game well," Smith says. "If we continue to hustle to the ball, wrap up and make good plays, we'll be fine."

Northern says team leaders like Smith, defensive tackles Joshua Kador and Jimmy Zachary and cornerback Octavius Bond have also helped solidify the group.

"Those guys," Northern says, "have done a tremendous job. The thing that separates us from last year is that we have some active guys with a little experience. Last year, we had active guys, but they didn't always know where they were going. That helps a lot."

But Northern's quiet intensity can't be discounted.

"Last week, he was a little more relaxed as a coordinator. I think he settled down," Williams says of Northern. "He realized that he can do this. He's been around Coach Roach and around these guys. I think he did a good job."

Northern points to Roach's open style of coaching as something that helped prepare him for the promotion to coordinator.

"Coach Roach would always let me call some defenses here and there," says Northern, whose impact as defensive backs coordinator at GSU was already clear: Last year, the Tigers were No. 4 in the nation in interceptions.

"It was kind of an apprenticeship role," Northern said. "He would always ask me what I thought about certain situations. I just have had a little bit more responsibility, in terms of calling all of the plays."

This week's contest against McNeese represents perhaps the steepest hill yet defensively for Grambling State: A smart, patient quarterback in Scott Pendarvis and, perhaps more importantly, an electrifying runner in Vick King. Each has been named a Southland Conference offensive player of the week already this season.

"A lot of people were waiting on the outcome of the (Alabama A&M) game for the same reason," Williams said. "Some felt like with the running game of A&M, there was a question about whether we could stop them. I think the defense, especially the front seven, did an excellent job on a guy that can really run the football."

A&M's Jeremiah Bonds, who had exploded for 261 yards in just two games, was neutralized. Take away a broken play of 60 yards, and Bonds ran for just 57 yards last week. The defense also held the Bulldogs' two quarterbacks to 23 completions combined.

"This is great time to play McNeese. We're starting to come together," says Smith. "I believe it's going to be a great game. When we have the mindset of being champions, despite whatever goes on, we succeed."

Lining up@GSU
TE Gershone Jessie (6-4, 250, Sr.)
LT Jonathan Banks (6-8, 360, So.)
LG Aqua Etefia (6-2, 315, Jr.)
C Lance Wright (6-0, 300, Jr.)
RG Darryl Rogers (6-5, 300, Jr.)
RT Andre' Bennett (6-6, 330, So.)
QB Bruce Eugene (6-1, 245, Jr.)
TB Henry Tolbert (5-9, 180, So.)
FB Ruben Mayes (6-2, 245, Fr.)
WR Moses Harris (6-0, 180, Jr.)
WR Tramon Douglas (6-0, 205, Sr.)
PK Brian Morgan (5-1, 185, Jr.)

DE Antonio Hughes (6-3, 230, So.)
DT Jimmy Zachary (6-2, 300, Jr.)
DT Lennard Patton (6-4, 300, Jr.)
DE Kenneth Pettway (6-4, 235, Sr.)
LB David Hicks (6-3, 225, So.)
LB Marcus Yanez (6-0, 235, Jr.)
LB Antoine Smith (6-2, 200, Sr.)
CB Octavius Bond (6-1, 207, Sr.)
CB Seneca Lee (6-0, 195, Sr.)
FS Earin Bridges (6-1, 185, Sr.)
SS Terry Cooper (6-3, 195, So.)
P Darien Morgan (6-0, 195, So.)

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Defeat proves aura of GSU
September 21, 2003

GRAMBLING - Sometimes there's honor in losing. This was one of those times.

Grambling State could have safely scheduled this year, secure in the knowledge that the Southwestern Athletic Conference awaited it. The same Southwestern Athletic Conference that it has dominated for three years straight.

But the Tigers chose to take this test, a test they were doing well on - until a couple of late errors from quarterback Bruce Eugene, a guy who hadn't made any all night.

"We knew our team needed to win this game," senior GSU receiver Tramon Douglas said. "We wanted to step up and show that Grambling could play with the best of them."

Take away two late interceptions, and the Tigers might have won.

But, much more importantly, take away this loss to McNeese State and several questions would never have been answered about Grambling State.

The Tigers showed they belonged in the top tier of Division I-AA on Saturday, pushing the No. 1 team to its limit. GSU fell late, 31-20.

"I look at it from the perspective that we should have had respect from the start," Tigers coach Doug Williams said. "Unfortunately, one or two people write what they feel - but we didn't play for respect. We played to win."

Still, there has always been the lingering question of how Grambling State compared with the football powers outside of that home conference. This was one of those times.

While other teams participate in the first week of the Division I-AA playoffs, the Tigers are always in New Orleans for the tradition- and cash-rich playing of the Bayou Classic.

Grambling State answered those questions on Saturday night.

"McNeese came here as the No. 1 team in I-AA," Williams said. "It was the first time that a predominantly white school had come to Grambling. I think it was great; the fans got their money's worth from this football game."

Some might question why GSU - an acknowledged champion in its own realm - would even chance such a moment at home.

"When you look at our schedule, I think Coach Williams has done a great job of getting us the kind of competition where, in the end, we will be stronger," GSU offensive coordinator Melvin Spears said. "We will be able to better defend our national black championship."

Still, it's not like Grambling State isn't used to the big game. Every game is big when you carry the history - both legendary and recent - of these Tigers.

"The thing about being at Grambling is, we have a bull's-eye on us," Spears said. "Every week, everyone brings their 'A' game - because everybody wants to beat Grambling. Every team, whether it's Prairie View or McNeese."

The teams that ought to win want another notch in their belt. The teams who shouldn't? Well, a season can be made for a 1-11 club - if that one win is against GSU.

"They are not really looking at our team as a whole, but at the history of this institution - those outstanding players and outstanding teams that Coach Eddie Robinson always had," Spears said. "Based on that, it's always going to be a big game. Then, with the success that Coach Williams has had in the past three years, everybody wants a piece of you just that much more."

That furious intensity meant the game was in doubt until the very last.

McNeese succeeded early by taking advantage of Grambling's aggressive tendencies, allowing it to overcommit. But the Cowboys didn't capitalize, and Grambling's offense gathered itself to pull ahead 13-6 at the half.

The old Cowboys strategy of mixing it up had instant success on the first drive of the second half. McNeese State quarterback Scott Pendarvis capped a 10-play, 74-yard opening drive with a 15-yard pass to fullback Luke Lawton to move the Cowboys ahead - but barely, 14-13.

McNeese State's Roderick Royal was seen stalking the sidelines, exhorting his teammates not to take the Tigers so lightly.

"They were shellshocked," Douglas said. "When they went in at halftime, they realized they had to play."

For the second week in a row, Grambling State saw a different opposing quarterback in the second half. McNeese pulled Pendarvis in the opening moments of the fourth quarter, inserting Louisiana-Monroe transfer Ryan Corcoran. Corcoran then led a drive that ended with a 3-yard scoring strike by runner Vick King, pulling the Cowboys back ahead by one, 21-20.

Pendarvis returned after the score, leading McNeese to a John Marino field goal that made it 24-20.

It's only then that a mistake by Grambling State - this Eugene pass, once surely a touchdown, would pop up in the air and turn the contest inalterably.

"We would have proved something if we had won," Douglas said. "They think they are better than us, because they won. One play made the difference."

While Grambling scored the same number of points as it had in last year's season-opening loss to McNeese, the outcome was far different this time.

"The one thing that it tells us is that, in Louisiana, we play excellent football," Spears said. "When you can have McNeese State and Grambling playing each other, and both in the top 10, that tells you this state has outstanding programs."

These two teams gained a measure of respect for one another - as evidenced by McNeese State coach Tommy Tate, last seen embracing a shaken Eugene at midfield after the game.

They both looked spent.

"Coach Tate would be the first to tell you, he was in a dog fight," Williams said.

You rarely find a team that should be proud of a loss.

This was one of those times.

Nick Deriso is sports editor at The News-Star, 411 N. Fourth St., Monroe, La., 71201. An online archive of his columns is at www.thenewsstar.com/nickderiso. You can contact him at (318) 362-0234 or at nderiso@thenewsstar.com.

· McNeese State completed a third-and-10 from its own 14 late in the game to hold on.


Grambling quarterback Bruce Eugene found receiver Tramon Douglas in the left corner of the end zone with a perfect fade pass for a 15-yard score to give the Tigers a 13-7 lead in the second quarter. Douglas was double-covered on the play as he made a terrific over-the-shoulder catch.

With 12:59 left in the second quarter, McNeese faced a third-and-16 at its own 16. The Cowboys' pass was incomplete, but the Tigers were flagged for defensive holding, giving McNeese an automatic first down.

After opening the game on its first two drives in three- and four-wide receiver sets and not running one rushing play, Grambling switched to the I formation and started running the ball. The switch seemed to catch McNeese offguard. Grambling had some success running and went back to the pass on the drive, which led to its first score of the game.

It was a tough night for Grambling kicker Brian Morgan. Morgan missed an extra point, a 41-yard field goal and also had a kickoff go out of bounds.

McNeese faced a fourth-and-1 at the Grambling 31 with 8:13 left in the second quarter. The Cowboys tried to run fullback Luke Lawton up the middle, but Grambling linebacker John Petty fired across and drilled Lawton for a 2-yard loss.

Grambling set three school records Saturday. Quarterback Bruce Eugene set two records for completions in a game (36) and attempts in a game (68). Receiver Tramon Douglas set a record for receptions in a game with 17.
- Nick Deriso

GRAMBLING - A record-breaking day for Grambling State receiver Tramon Douglas against McNeese State dissolved into a heart-breaker, as the Tigers fell behind late and never recovered.

GSU lost 31-20, despite remaining within one score most of the way - and despite Douglas' setting a new school record with 17 receptions.

Grambling State quarterback Bruce Eugene had two first-half touchdown passes, both for 16 yards, to Douglas. He added another 15-yarder 10 minutes into the second half.

But it was a final pass try to Eugene that finished the Tigers, as the ball bounced from his hands into those of waiting McNeese defender Stephen Barrett.

McNeese State tailback Vick King then broke a 60-yard scoring run on the ensuing possession that sealed the game, 31-20.

"It came down to one pass," said Douglas, a senior All-American. "It was behind me, but I got a finger on it - and couldn't bring it in. I'd like to apologize to the team."

King finished with three touchdowns on the night. He ran 30 times for 215 yards.

"We had our opportunities," sixth-year GSU coach Doug Williams said. "Bruce missed one or two touchdowns. We dropped one or two touchdowns. We have no one to blame but ourselves."

A 16-yard catch by West Monroe High product Marcus Turner keyed the opening score of the game for McNeese. King broke free after a terrific cutback, scampering through a seam in the Tigers defense for a 31-yard touchdown.

Then a 19-yard pass to Neville High product Tim Abney set up Grambling State's first points of the game - a 16-yard touchdown strike from Eugene to Douglas one minute into the second quarter. Brian Morgan missed the extra point.

A stop on a fourth-and-1 midway through the second stalled a McNeese drive that included a 30-yard completion to B.J. Sams on third and 31. GSU linebacker John Petty smacked McNeese fullback Luke Lawton in the backfield for a two-yard loss at the Grambling 33.

But then Grambling State couldn't convert on its own fourth-and-1 with 5:32 left in the half. Sophomore runner Ab Kuaan was stopped short, giving the Cowboys the ball back at the McNeese 38.

Morgan made the extra point on his second try, as Grambling moved ahead 13-7 just before the half on a second Eugene touchdown pass to Douglas.

Pendarvis started the second half with an opening-drive scoring pass to Lawton, but Grambling State answered with another Eugene-to-Douglas TD.

Morgan's tough night continued when he missed a 41-yard field goal with one minute left in the third quarter.

King's final scoring run sent most of the estimated 17,485 fans in attendance toward the exits with 1:50 left.
- Nick Deriso

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McNeese St. won't be on GSU schedules in near future
September 22, 2003

GRAMBLING - Grambling State coach Doug Williams admitted that the two games against McNeese State were thrilling nights of football.

It took a fourth-quarter turnover on Saturday to decide the contest. Even last year's game, an eventual blowout, was 21-14 at the half.

So, can fans look forward to a regular series meeting between the Cowboys and Tigers?

"No," Williams said, after losing to McNeese 31-20 at Robinson Stadium. "We took our shot at it, but I think now we have some other opportunities that we've got to look at. We do like to travel. We do like to go to Classics."

The fact that Saturday's game didn't sell out isn't a factor in renewing the contract.

"Tonight, it didn't matter," he said. "With McNeese coming here, being the No. 1, coming here, I think it was great."

Williams says that GSU has already contacted other schools about the date that McNeese State has filled for the past two seasons.

"There's a Classic that we have a possibility of playing in next year," Williams said. "It will either be this date or next. We are open next week."

He confirmed that those discussions include San Jose State, which held the very successful Literary Classic for the first time with the Tigers to open the season.

Missed tackle, missed opportunity: Turnovers again keyed McNeese State's win - though the Tigers did a better job in the rematch than they had in last year's blowout loss.

The 52-20 loss in Lake Charles featured five turnovers, while Saturday's loss only included two.

The difference in 2003 was the timing of the first mistake, as Grambling State was deep in the Cowboys territory, with a chance for a go-ahead score in the fourth quarter.

"We turned it over at a very, very crucial time," Williams said.

But, with 4:30 left in the ballgame and down by only four points, Williams adds that the team still had a chance.

That is, until Grambling State defenders missed a key tackle on the ensuing possession, when the Cowboys were facing third-and-10. MSU's B.J. Sams converted with a 16-yard catch - setting up runner Vick King's 60-yard scoring run to seal the win three plays later.

"That wasn't a tackle. It was a body block," Williams said. "It's nobody's fault but ours. You've got to wrap up. If we tackle Sams, it's fourth down - and we get another shot."

Sharing the wealth: Calvin Colquitt, last week's leading receiver for GSU, missed the game because of injury - though Williams said the Tigers have enough emerging weapons like Tim Abney and Chris Day to account for his absence.

"I think the guys that can fill in played big," he said. "And that's the good thing about this football team. The guy that everybody watches is Tramon Douglas - and he still sets a record."

While Douglas set a new school mark against McNeese State with 17 catches, Moses Harris and Abney added another 12. Day had just two catches, but averaged 11.5 yards on each.

Seven different receivers touched the ball against the Cowboys, a week after Eugene passed to nine Tigers against Alabama A&M.

"Abney is making some big plays," Williams said. When you have guys like that who you can spread the ball around to, it makes it difficult for defenses."

Eugene rebounds in rematch: Bruce Eugene, despite the late turnovers, redeemed his shaky game last year against McNeese State.

"That was his first game to start," Williams said. "He got a whole year under his belt. It makes a difference when you've got a trigger man who has seen it."

Eugene finished 36-for-68 (both new school records) with 397 yards in the air and three touchdown passes. He also rushed eight times for 44 yards on Saturday.

Compare that with the 2002 loss to McNeese: 4-for-22 with just 125 yards in the air. He had two scores, and two interceptions. Eugene also ran seven times, but for a shocking minus-16 total.

Tiger bites: Grambling's offensive line didn't allow any sacks by the Cowboys. … Williams is not a big fan of the old-fashioned moral victory: "It's hard to take too much positive out of it, when you lose," he said. "But I've got to give the team a lot of credit. To sit here and say I'm not proud of the way they played? That wouldn't be fair to them." … McNeese State's King rushed for a career-high 215 yards.

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Ball control
GSU's Tramon Douglas does it all again, finally
September 24, 2003

GRAMBLING - A record-breaking receiving day for Grambling State's Tramon Douglas, in the end, didn't mean that much to him.

"I would rather have one catch and we win, than have all those catches in a loss," the senior receiver said. GSU fell 31-20 to McNeese State on Saturday, while Douglas set a new school mark with 17 grabs.

What it meant to the team, however, is something else entirely: As goes Douglas, so goes Grambling State.

And, like the offense, Douglas started slowly.

"He's giving us everything he has. He's made some tough catches for us," says Tigers coach Doug Williams. "But that little bruise on his knee hasn't always let him be Tramon Douglas."

He's talking about the Tramon Douglas who averaged nearly eight catches a game in his All-American junior season at Grambling State - on his way to breaking Jerry Rice's Southwestern Athletic Conference single-season receiving yards record with 1,704 yards.

After an opening loss in 2002 against McNeese, when Douglas had only one catch, the Tigers reeled off 10 straight wins - on the way to a third-straight SWAC championship.

But Douglas didn't practice much during the summer, hobbled by that nagging knee problem. The week before GSU's season opener, he wasn't even in pads at practice.

Douglas, of course, started - but again wasn't a factor in Grambling State's second-straight season-opening thrashing, pulling in just two catches for 30 yards as the Tigers were blanked 29-0.

"He's working hard every day. He's not sitting down on it," Williams says. "It's not that anything is torn. It's just one of those bruises that you can't shake."

The loss underscored the complementary nature of Douglas' success and that of his quarterback.
The longer it took Douglas to get healthy, the longer it clearly would take for Bruce Eugene to get on track this year.

The Tigers' impressive showing in this year's rematch against McNeese, the nation's top-ranked Division I-AA school, is just the latest example.

Douglas's 17 catches - only two fewer than all of the other GSU receivers combined - served to keep the game whisker-close until the very end. He broke the previous school record of 16 set by former wideout Nate Singleton against Virginia Union on Sept. 14, 1991.

"I knew the team needed me this game," Douglas says. "I wanted to step up and show them that Grambling can play with the best of them."

He was rewarded with the most rare of honors: Douglas has been named one of The Sports Network's Division I-AA players of the week - the first from the SWAC to receive that designation this season. He also was named one of I-AA.org's All-Stars and the SWAC's co-offensive player of the week.

Something interesting happened, however, as Douglas slowly found his footing.

Grambling State discovered some of its other receivers: Eugene threw to an astounding nine different people in a win over Alabama A&M - including scoring passes to juniors Moses Harris and Chris Day.

"The good part about it is, Moses Harris made some good plays for us," Williams says. "Tim Abney is making tough catches. We're getting a lot of people involved. I was glad to see Chris Day score a TD; that helped his confidence level."

While Douglas was smashing records against McNeese State, Harris and breakout freshman star Abney piled up 125 yards receiving combined.

"We knew coming into this, after Tramon had a breakout season last year, that he wasn't going to be able to get as many passes," Eugene says. "Our focus has been to get other people open, then come to Tramon. So far this year, that's what's been happening."

Still, without his go-to guy, Eugene sometimes looked tentative in the first two games - like he was thinking too much.

"You can't depend on just one guy," Williams says he told Eugene. "He was feeling it. You can't just look Tramon's way, especially when he's not there."

Then that first touchdown finally came - with nine seconds left in the half in Week 2 at Lorman, Miss. The 20-yarder was hauled in, of course, by Douglas.

Grambling State has played better every successive quarter since.

"The fact that Tramon is still not 100 percent has hampered us in certain situations," says Tigers offensive coordinator Melvin Spears. "Overall, though, we've got some guys who can come along. It's just that Bruce has to be a little more patient. Mechanically, he still was not always in a good throwing position. A lot of his pre-snap routine wasn't as good as it has been."

After having scored just that one touchdown in the previous game and a half, Eugene and the Tigers then exploded for 12 scores in the next eight quarters of play.

Eugene-to-Douglas accounts for five of them. Eugene has run in four more by himself.

And so it goes.

"It slowed him down, but one thing about Tramon: He's a fighter. He'll never quit. He'll never give up," Eugene says, sounding ever more confident. "Although the knee isn't 100 percent, he's still going to be out there giving it his all. We're grateful for that."