• 72°

Grambling, JSU play again for SWAC title

BIRMINGHAM – Grambling State and Jackson State both sport impressive winning streaks and have stingy defenses and quarterbacks who can run as well as pass.

They also carry plenty of familiarity with each other into Saturday’s Southwestern Athletic Conference championship game at Legion Field. It will, after all, be their fourth meeting in the past two seasons including last year’s title game.

Both Grambling State (10-2) and defending SWAC champion Jackson State (7-4) can treat this as a grudge match. Grambling needed only one offensive touchdown to win 14-5 on Sept. 20, scoring again on Bruna Foster’s fourth-quarter interception return.

Jackson State won a shootout in last year’s championship game at Legion Field, 42-31, for its first SWAC title since 1996.

“Hopefully we can go into the offseason with a win this time,” Grambling coach Rod Broadway said. “Last year was very disappointing. We lost the game and they made more plays than we did in the championship game and scored 42 points on us, which for us is a lot of points. We can’t play that type of defense this year and expect to win the ball game, or we’ll get beat again.”

Points could be hard to come by in the latest rematch, with two of the SWAC’s top defenses taking the field.

Jackson State is second in the Football Championship Series in total defense and tackles for loss and fourth in sacks, led by Marcus Benard and Marcellus Speaks.

Benard has a school-record 15 sacks, good for second in the FCS. Speaks is the SWAC defensive Most Valuable Player and ranks third nationally in tackles for loss.

Grambling ranks second or third in the SWAC in total, run and scoring defense.

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

His team has won nine consecutive games starting with the early win over Jackson State, which has a six-game winning streak.

Grambling had won its first four SWAC championship game appearances before last season. Jackson State has won 16 conference titles.

Jackson State coach Rick Comegy doesn’t think his team is any less hungry for a title after winning last year.

“I don’t know too many guys who got a birthday cake when he was 1 year old and wasn’t looking for it when he’s 2,” Comegy said. “It’s all new. It’s a new year. That happiness, that excitement and that enthusiasm about just being winners is always there. What young man doesn’t want to be a champion? What young man doesn’t want to try to win a ring?”

Grambling quarterback Greg Dillon is second in the SWAC in pass efficiency and ranks fourth in rushing yards with 676, 10 yards behind teammate Cornelius Walker.

“He’s a tough quarterback to handle,” Comegy said. “He’s a get-out-of-the-pocket type guy. You’ve got to make sure you do the best you can to keep him in control, contain him and hope that he doesn’t get out and make a lot of big plays.”

Jackson State’s offense is led by Trae Rutland, the team’s top rusher and passer.

Grambling has won both regular season meetings the past two years. Comegy said neither those games nor last year’s championship match are a factor any more.

“We’re in a situation right now where there’s no records,” he said. “It’s a three-hour game, no-holds barred. You both won your side of the conference and now what do you do in this next three hours? You either become champions or you don’t.

“We’re looking at it from that point of view, not that we’ve played them a certain amount of times.”