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Bayou Classic to decide SWAC West

LUT WILLIAMS
BCSP Editor

BCSP No. 3 North Carolina Central prevailed over rival and BCSP No. 1 North Carolina A&T 42-21 Saturday in a North Carolina showdown to claim the Mid Eastern Athletic Conference championship and that league’s berth in the 2nd annual Celebration Bowl on Dec. 17 at the Atlanta Georgia Dome.

There’s another spicy rivalry game on tap this week as the attention shifts to New Orleans and the 43rd annual Bayou Classic between Louisiana rivals, the new BCSP No. 1 Grambling State (8-1, 8-0 SWAC West) and BCSP No. 4 Southern (8-2, 8-0 W), for that league’s West Division title. The game will be carried live Saturday on the NBC Sports Network beginning at 4 p.m. The winner of the showdown will face East Division champ Alcorn State next week (Dec. 3) in the SWAC Championship Game for a chance to meet N. C. Central in the Dec. 17 Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl.

The SWAC West usually comes down to this season-ending classic in New Orleans and this year is no different. Both teams are 8-0 and undefeated and relatively unchallenged in conference play. All eight of Grambling and head coach Broderick Fobbs’s SWAC wins have been by at least 21 points. Southern had two league wins by single-digits, 28-24 over Jackson State and 41-33 over Alcorn State. The rest have been blowouts. But the teams could not be any closer matched than this year, particularly in conference stats.

“Our focus now is Southern University and what they do and what we do and playing the game the right way,” Fobbs said on Tuesday’s SWAC Coaches Teleconference. “They (our players) understand that it’s a football contest and an opportunity to further our dreams and our goals.” Grambling (43.1 ppg.) and Southern (40.8 ppg.) are 1-2 in scoring offense, 1-2 in scoring defense (GSU, 14.9 ppg., SU 25.9 ppg.), 1-2 in total offense (GSU 500.6 ypg., SU 473.9) and 1-2 in pass offense (GSU 298.7 ypg., SU 265.2 ypg.).

Grambling junior quarterback Devante Kincade leads the passing stats (261.1 ypg., 27 TDs, 3 ints.) followed by Southern’s Austin Howard (246.0 ypg., 26 TDs, 7 ints.). The signal callers are also 1-2 in passing efficiency and in total offense. In rushing, Southern senior Lenard Tillery, who earlier this season became the league’s career rushing leader, leads the league with 1,431 yards and 12 rushing touchdowns. Grambling counters with Jestin Kelly (710 yards, 8 TDs) and Martez Carter (528 yards, 6 TDs) whose numbers add up to Tillery’s.

Among receivers, Grambling senior Chad Williams tops the league with 70 receptions (7.8 per game) for 1,102 yards (122.4 ypg.) and nine scores in nine games. Southern senior Willie Quinn doubles as a dangerous pass catcher (58 receptions, 924 yards, 10 TDs) and kick returner. “These are two really good football teams that in a lot of the categories are 1 and 2,” said Southern head coach Dawson Odums. “Turnovers are always a factor in a game of this magnitude.

Last year they won the turnover battle and they won the game. This year, I think we’re (a league-best) plus-17 (in turnover margin), so we’ve done a great job of taking the ball away and protecting the football. I thinks it going to come down to turnovers and penalties. “Whichever team can play hard and smart and protect the football is going to have an upper hand in this game.” Fittingly, the Bayou Classic history of the series is tied at 21 games apiece. Southern led the home-and-home series 15-10 before it was moved to New Orleans and dubbed the Bayou Classic in 1974.

Southern had won three straight in the rivalry before last year’s 34-23 Grambling win that sent them to the SWAC title game. Three games involving MEAC teams are also on this closing week’s schedule. Bethune-Cookman is at South Carolina State and Morgan State is at Savannah State in games postponed from Oct. 9 because of Hurricane Matthew. One other SWAC school is in action. Alabama State (3-7) closes with its annual Turkey Day Classic in Montgomery hosting Miles (5-5) at 3 p.m. Thursday.

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