Oliver Dazzles in Birmingham Cat Fight

By Ivan McDowell
Updated: December 15, 2007

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Grambling State was were vying for their 22nd SWAC football championship in the schools illustrious history. The Tigers have made five appearances since the championship game format was implemented in 1999 and are 4-0 on their previous trips.

Jackson State made the second overall appearance in the championship game, but their first since the inaugural game way back in 1999. The Tigers lost a heartbreaker in that one 31-30 versus Southern.

The two conference foes entered the contest with two of the most explosive offenses in black college football. JSU is second in the SWAC in scoring, while GSU ranks fourth.

Defensively, it’s the Bayou Bengals who hold the slight edge; ranking second in the league scoring wise. The Tigers from Mississippi come in fourth best during the regular season in SWAC play.

JSU opened up the game inauspiciously when Quarterback Jimmy Oliver was picked off by Grambling’s DeMichael Dizer and returned to the Tiger 44-yard line.

GSU took advantage quickly as Quarterback Brandon Landers hit Clyde Edwards on two pass plays and tailback Frank Warren rushed twice for two yards; the former for a first down, while on the latter Warren bounced in off of left tackle for the score. The completed point after gave Grambling an early 7-0 lead.

JSU came right back with a methodical drive of a mixture of runs and passes (mostly Oliver runs off of broken plays) to enter the red zone and regain momentum. Oliver then rolled out and hit Jamar Johnson from 13 yards out to even the score at seven after the made extra point.

JSU struck almost immediately on Grambling’s next possession when Dominique Johnson intercepted Landers’ pass and returned it for 35 yards and the touchdown and a 14-7 Jackson State lead with 5:08 to play in the first quarter.

After a Grambling punt left JSU buried at their own one, lineman William Davis was called for an offensive holding while Oliver was scrambling in the end zone. With the penalty, Grambling was awarded a safety and the JSU lead was cut to five, 14-9, with just under a minute left in the quarter.

A nine-play, 35-yard drive resulted in a Tim Manuel field goal and the Grambling crept closer 14-12. On the drive, Tiger receiver Clyde Edwards became the schools all-time leader with 194, passing Tremone Douglas. He would later become the teams’ all-time leader in receiving yards, eclipsing the mark set by Scotty Edwards and finishing with seven catches for 72 yards.

Moments after the GSU kickoff, JSU running back Cody Hull fumbled the hand off and Grambling recovered deep in Jackson territory, setting them up to retake the advantage.

The Jackson defense stiffened at the 19-yard line and Grambling’s 30 yard field goal was blocked by defensive back Keith Camp. The score remained 14-12 with 8:27 to play in the half.

A 21-yd run by Lavarus Giles and a 34-yard pass from Oliver to Carlos Simpson set up a 17-yard touchdown pass to Chris Johnson. On the last play of the 7 play, 71-yard drive, Oliver avoided numerous sacks; scampering left, then right while being flushed from the pocket and finding Johnson in the back of the end zone.

The made point after gave Jackson a little breathing room at 21-12.

Grambling, possibly still suffering from shock of Oliver’s circus run and toss, became unraveled as Landers’ pass was picked off again, this time by linebacker Marcellus Speaks. The Tigers second interception of the day provided them with excellent field position once again inside the GSU 30-yard line.

This time Grambling’s defense stiffened, but an apparent JSU field goal attempt was nullified when off sides was called on the G-Men, giving Jackson an automatic first down and keeping an important drive alive for the Tigers.

Three plays later, Giles poked it in from three yards out and Jackson State suddenly had a commanding 28-12 cushion with just 2:33 left to play in the half.

The second half saw Jackson State punt for the first time in the ball game as halftime adjustments were made by both teams in the locker room resulting in consecutive three-and-outs by both teams.

Grambling was the first to get things going in the second half when Brandon Landers found a wide open Nick Lewis for a 24-yard touchdown. The touchdown was set up by a 37-yard scamper by freshman tailback Cornelius Walker. A GSU two-point conversion closed the gap to eight, 28-20 at the 9:46 mark.

Thirty-two seconds later the G-Men struck again.

After a controversial fumbled forward pass that was ruled a lateral, Grambling took over possession and struck gold again. Landers hit Edwards on a 42-yard bomb down the sideline for the score. Another completed two-point Tiger conversion tied the score at 28 and we had us a dandy in Birmingham.

After a Grambling field goal that give them their first lead since the opening minutes of the game and also capped 19 consecutive points by the Tigers, Oliver led JSU on another long drive.

Oliver completed the drive with another magical play scrambling out of the pocket. On the verge of being brought down by defensive back Tim Clark, Oliver, with Clark wrapped around his legs, fired 15 yards to an open Terrance Jones, who dove into the end zone. The 7-play, 74-yard drive catapulted Jackson State back in front 35-31 in the fourth quarter.

After a Grambling punt, JSU struck quickly this time, as Giles broke out of a congested pile up at the line of scrimmage and jetted 54 yards to the promised land. Jackson State now led 42-31 with just over 11 minutes left.

As the rain began to fell, both offenses found the going slippery and subsequently neither offense could do much with the ball on their possessions.

When Landers threw a third interception, this time to Daniel Brooks, Grambling had run out of comebacks. For Jackson State, it was their first SWAC championship game victory, while Grambling would suffer its first ever defeat in a conference championship game.

Oliver was named Offensive MVP. The Columbia, Mississippi native threw for 249 yards and three touchdowns. He repeatedly escaped GSU defenders, ad-libbing on many of his throws and runs. Tailback Giles torched the Grambling defense for 132 yards on 23 carries and two scores of his own.

“He willed this team to victory. He always finds a way to figure you out. He scrambles around and finds the open guys and really knows how to make big plays,” said JSU Coach Rick Comegy.

“He may not be prototypical, but he’s always been a winner. Today he struggled early, but in the end came out a winner.”

For Grambling State, Landers turned in a mixed bag performance; throwing for 229 yards and two touchdown passes, but also tossing three costly interceptions.

“The story of the day was missed tackles. That doesn’t show up when you’re flying to the ball like a championship team,” said Grambling coach Rod Broadway.

“We had him (Oliver) dead to rights and all we had to do was get him on the ground, but he made three unbelievable plays and that was the difference in the ball game.”

SCG Tidbits:

– Grambling State and Jackson State combined for a record 73 points in the title game.

– Grambling, trailing 28-12, scored 19 consecutive points to recapture a 31-28 in the third quarter. Jackson State rallied to score 14 unanswered in the fourth quarter to seal the victory.

– The teams also combined for 29 penalties for 246 yards and six turnovers.

– The Jackson State victory marks their first since the SWAC began the championship game format in 1999. Overall, JSU has now won 16 conference championships.

– In losing to JSU, Grambling State lost for the first time in five championship appearances.