NEW ORLEANS (AP) Johnathan Williams threw three touchdowns and ran for a fourth as Grambling State scored 28-consecutive points in a 34-23 comeback victory over Southern University in the Bayou Classic on Saturday.
“Our coaches did a great job of calling plays that put our athletes in space with chances to make plays,” said Williams. “The 28 points, it was just a matter of time before we got rolling. Our defense played well, and everything fell into place for us.”
The Tigers (9-2, 9-0 Southwestern Athletic Conference) ended three-straight wins by Southern (6-5, 6-3) in the game between the Louisiana rivals. Grambling advances to next week’s SWAC championship game against Alcorn State in Houston for the first time since 2011.
Williams, who leads the SWAC in total offense, completed 20-of-34 passes for 272 yards and rushed for 78 yards on nine carries. He threw scoring passes to KaJandre Domino and Verlan Hunter in the second quarter. He rushed for a touchdown in the third and completed a 54-yard scoring pass eight seconds into the fourth quarter that all but sealed the outcome.
“Southern made a couple of mistakes early that helped us get back in the ball game,” Grambling State coach Broderick Fobbs said. “I thought we did a really good job of making them turn the ball over, putting the ball in the end zone and taking advantage of the whole situation from the second quarter on.”
The Jaguars appeared on their way to taking total control early in the first half, sprinting to a 20-3 lead by midway through the second quarter. But after Southern’s third first-half touchdown – a 13-yard scoring run by quarterback Austin Howard early in the second quarter – Grambling answered with Williams taking the Tigers 75 yards in 10 plays and the drive ending with a 3-yard scoring pass to Domino in the right corner of the end zone. Williams was stripped of the ball on the play while scrambling to his right, but it bounced up into his hands.
The scoring strike to Hunter came with 4:44 left in the first half and suddenly, the Jaguars were clinging to a 20-17 lead at halftime.
Grambling State took the lead for good, 24-20, midway through the third quarter on Williams’ 1-yard sneak.
“It looked like they tackled well, and we didn’t execute in the second half,” Southern coach Dawson Odums said. “We were playing with great rhythm and executing, but against good teams you have to sustain that for 60 minutes. We would make plays, and then we would have penalties.”
Southern’s Greg Pittman kicked a 33-yard field goal with 8:04 left in the fourth, bringing the Jaguars to 31-23. But Williams responded by leading the Tigers on a 57-yard drive capped by Marc Orozco’s 22-yard field goal with 2:09 left in the game for the final score.
Howard finished with 241 yards passing for the Jaguars.