Southern downs Grambling 40-17 in Bayou Classic
NEW ORLEANS — As much as Grambling could have used a morale-boosting triumph in the Bayou Classic, Dray Joseph and the Southern Jaguars were not going to let that happen.
Joseph and Lee Dross connected for three touchdowns and Southern defeated Grambling 40-17 Saturday.
The result left the Tigers (1-11, 0-8 Southwestern Athletic Conference) with the program's worst-ever overall record to close a season which will be remembered more for a mid-season player walkout than anything on the field.
"I'm OK with that because you know what? One thing it did is brought a lot of attention to this one game," Grambling coach Dennis "Dirt" Winston said. "The world wanted to see what these guys were going to do. ... I think they represented well. Southern today was just a better football team."
Despite all the losses, Grambling offensive lineman Clint Marsh said the season "went fairly decent with what we got accomplished for the younger players and the future of Grambling."
"That's what I wanted the young players to know — when you stick together as a team, there's nothing that you can't overcome," Marsh said.
Next for Grambling is the administration's decision regarding who to hire as permanent head coach.
Winston, who was in charge only for Grambling's last four games, led the Tigers to their only victory and two close losses before the Bayou Classic. He said he'd like the job, but is under the impression that McNeese State tight-ends coach Roderick Fobbs is the favorite to take over.
"I'm just going to do the best job I can do until they tell me, 'Hey, you're fired,'" Winston said. "Until something is permanent, I'm going to continue to work, continue to recruit, continue to talk to these players."
Marsh said Winston, a former NFL linebacker and former assistant under legendary former Grambling coach Eddie Robinson, did a good job keeping players together and making the Tigers more competitive.
"I talk to a lot of the players. They really, really do like coach Winston," Marsh said. "It's more than just a football team, it's a family. I really don't want them to split and I think the best chance of avoiding a split is if coach Winston is still the coach."
Southern (8-4, 7-2) had already won the SWAC's Western Division and will head to the league championship game against Jackson State in Houston on Dec. 7.
But the Jaguars had no interest in letting up on their struggling rivals, racing to a 27-3 halftime lead on a short scoring run by Lenard Tillery and TD catches of 17 and 30 yards by Doss.
"Momentum is everything in college football, so just going into the next game with a victory is a great deal for us," Joseph said. "Jackson State has been sitting there preparing for us for three weeks and they probably watched this game today, so just having the momentum going for us next week is a great thing for us."
Grambling pulled to 27-17 on Johnathan Williams' touchdown passes of 11 yards to Robert Bailey and 8 yards to Anthony McGhee. But in the fourth quarter, Southern's defense thwarted the comeback attempt by forcing turnovers. Williams was intercepted by defensive back Virgil Williams. Later, Williams lost a fumble on a sack by linebacker Daniel Brown.
Williams, who moved into a starting role after an injury to season-opening starter D.J. Williams, finished 14 of 21 for 123 yards.
Doss finished with six catches for 117 yards and surpassed the 1,000-yard mark for the season. Tillery gained 104 yards on 19 carries.
Grambling's season took a historic turn when players walked out on several days of practice and Jackson State's Oct. 19 homecoming game in protest of the conditions under which they trained and traveled, citing in particular their long bus rides to Indianapolis and Kansas City.
Player complaints included decrepit practice and training facilities, including a torn-up weight room floor, which was replaced after their protest.
The seeds of revolt were planted in September with the firing of head coach Doug Williams, who is one of the school's most famous alumni, having won a Super Bowl with the Washington Redskins.
Williams was first replaced by George Ragsdale, who went 0-5 before being replaced by Winston during the week of the walkout.
The walkout lasted one game, which was forfeited. The SWAC fined Grambling $20,000 and ordered the Tigers to play at Jackson State the next three seasons.
Those associated with Grambling hope long-term effects of the protest eventually include a better relationship between prominent football alumni and the university's administration so they may rebuild trust with prospective donors who have the ability to address some of the program's ills quickly.
Yet, during the game, it was apparent that wasn't going to happen overnight. Doug Williams attended the game, watching most of it by himself in the Superdome press box before heading down to the Grambling sideline in the final minutes.
He said he wanted to support his son, D.J., and the many players he recruited, but otherwise declined comment on the extent to which any healing has taken place.
"I think it's better if I stay out of it," he said.
Marsh said relationships between current players and the administration is not entirely restored yet, either.
"There's a lot more that could be done," Marsh said.