NEW ORLEANS (AP) — As much as Grambling could have used a morale-boosting triumph in the Bayou Classic, Dray Joseph and the Southern Jaguars were not going to let that happen.
Joseph and Lee Dross connected for three touchdowns and Southern defeated Grambling 40-17 in the Bayou Classic on Saturday.
The result left the Tigers (1-11, 0-8 Southwestern Athletic Conference) with the program's worst-ever overall record to close a season which will be remembered more for a mid-season player walkout than anything on the field.
Southern (8-4, 7-2) had already won the SWAC's Western Division and will head to the league championship game against Jackson State in Houston on Dec. 7.
But the Jaguars had no interest in letting up on their struggling rivals, racing to a 27-3 halftime lead on a short scoring run by Lenard Tillery and TD catches of 17 and 30 yards by Lee Doss.
Grambling pulled to 27-17 on Johnathan Williams' touchdown passes of 11 yards to Robert Bailey and 8 yards to Anthony McGhee, but in the fourth quarter, Southern's defense thwarted the comeback attempt by forcing turnovers. Williams was intercepted by defensive back Virgil Williams. Later, Williams lost a fumble on a sack by linebacker Daniel Brown.
Williams, who moved into a starting role after an injury to season-opening starter D.J. Williams, finished 14 of 21 for 123 yards.
Doss finished with six catches for 117 yards and surpassed the 1,000-yard mark for the season. Tillery gained 104 yards on 19 carries.
Grambling's season took a historic turn when players walked out on several days of practice and Jackson State's Oct. 19 homecoming game in protest of the conditions under which they trained and traveled, citing in particular their long bus trips to Indianapolis and Kansas City.
The players also complained of decrepit practice and training facilities, including torn-up tiles in the weight room floor, which was replaced after their protest. There were also claims, which the administration disputed, of moldy and otherwise improperly cleaned football pads which raised risks of staph infections.
The players were also upset by the dismissal of head coach Doug Williams, one of the school's most famous alumni, having won a Super Bowl with the Washington Redskins.
Williams was first replaced by George Ragsdale, who went 0-5 before being replaced by Dennis "Dirt" Winston, another former NFL player who has said he would like the job permanently.
The walkout lasted only one week, and one game, which was forfeited. The Southwestern Athletic Conference fined Grambling $20,000 and has ordered the Tigers to play at Jackson State the next three seasons. So in at least one respect, the direct effects of the walkout will linger several more years in the form of two extra road games.
Those associated with Grambling hope other long-term effects eventually include a better relationship between prominent football alumni and the university's administration so they may rebuild trust with prospective donors who have the ability to address some of the program's ills quickly.
Yet, during the game, it was apparent that wasn't going to happen overnight. Doug Williams attended the game, watching most of it by himself in the Superdome press box before heading down to the Grambling sideline in the final minutes.
He said he wanted to support his son, D.J., and the many players he recruited, but otherwise declined comment on the extent to which any healing has taken place since the walkout.
"I think it's better if I stay out of it," he said.