NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Southern coach Dawson Odums was gratified by the growth in composure his team displayed one year after a painful collapse in the Bayou Classic.
After Grambling trimmed an 18-point deficit to three in the fourth quarter, Southern responded with a touchdown drive that sealed a 38-28 victory in the 45th Bayou Classic to advance to the Southwestern Athletic Conference championship game.
"We took the lead with 5:02 left last year and couldn't make one more play to win the game," Odums said. "When they cut the lead to 31-28 today, you could tell the mindset was totally different. Our offense answered. Our offensive line was dominant."
The Jaguars (7-3, 6-1) will play at East Division champion Alcorn State in the SWAC championship game next Saturday.
Ladarius Skleton threw three touchdown passes and passed for 217 yards even though he completed just 8 of 14. Devon Benn rushing 19 times for 167 rushing yards, including the game's final touchdown from 2-yards out.
Southern out-rushed Grambling (6-5, 4-3) 247-94.
"They made us one dimensional," Tigers coach Broderick Fobbs said.
Southern was threatening to increase its 17-10 halftime lead on the first possession of the third quarter, but Grambling's La'Allan Clark picked up a fumble after a botched handoff and ran 80 yards to the Jaguars 8 to set up Garrett Urban's 21-yard field goal.
On the next possession, the Jaguars faced a third-and-23 when Skelton connected with Kendall Catalon for an 80-yard touchdown and a 24-13 lead.
Skelton's 44-yard touchdown pass to Randall Menard increased Southern's lead to 31-13 after three quarters.
"A lot of teams we would have quit, but we fought back," Fobbs said. "We're not going to stop until there are four zeroes on the clock."
Geremy Hickbottom ran 4 yards for a touchdown and completed a pass for a two-point conversion that cut the Jaguars lead to 31-21 early in the fourth quarter.
The Tigers recovered a fumble at the Southern 19 on the next possession and Hickbottom's 1-yard touchdown run trimmed Southern's lead to 31-28 with 11:07 remaining.
"We were able to run the ball and we hit them with some big plays," Odums said. "We took their best shot and answered back."
Hickbottom completed 18 of 30 for 188 yards and with one touchdown and one interception. He led the Tigers with 60 yards on 19 rushes.
Southern took a 7-0 lead less than two minutes into the game when Kordell Caldwell blocked a punt by Martell Fontenot and fell on the football in the end zone.
Hickbottom threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to Darrell Clark that pulled Grambling even at the end of the first quarter.
Ceasar Barajas' 47-yard field goal and Skelton's 23-yard touchdown pass to Trey Smith gave the Jaguars a 17-7 lead.
Urban kicked a 44-yard field goal with 33 seconds left in the second quarter to pull the Tigers within 17-10 at halftime.
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