Grambling State, Jackson State meet again in SWAC championship

When you think about Grambling State and Jackson State playing for the SWAC championship on Saturday at Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala., it's hard to imagine a better matchup.

They have been the two best teams in the conference over the past two years.

Moreover, for the second straight year, Grambling State and Jackson State will battle for the SWAC title.

It's certainly going to be an interesting contest between these two teams that have established quite a rivalry.

There's also some history surrounding this game. On Sept. 20, the G-men defeated JSU 14-5 at Grambling.

Last year, Grambling State topped Jackson State 30-20 in Jackson during the regular season, but the JSU Tigers came back with a 42-31 victory to capture the SWAC crown.

It's hard to determine which team has the edge. Jackson State (7-4 overall, 6-1 league) won the Eastern Division title after beating Alabama A&M. Grambling State (10-2 overall, 7-0 league) is coming off a big win over Southern in the Bayou Classic to clinch the Western Division championship.

It looks like Greg Dillon has been the difference-maker for the G-men. Grambling State coach Rod Broadway has been pleased with Dillon, the Tigers' sophomore quarterback. The 6-foot, 200-pound signal caller has thrown for 1,242 yards, 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He has rushed for 676 yards and three TDs. Broadway knows Dillon can make things happen with the ball in his hands.

"He has some ability to do some things like running the ball and throwing the ball," Broadway said. "It's hard for a defense to prepare for a guy like that. If we can get him to be a little bit more protective of the football, the sky is the limit as far as his career here."

Dillon does put a lot of pressure on the defense. His playmaking ability causes a lot of problems.

On the other side of the ledger, Jackson State has been a strong defensive team all season long.

The Tigers are led by linebacker Marcellus Speaks (115 total tackles, 20.5 tackles for loss), defensive end Marcus Benard (15 sacks, 22.5 tackles for loss) and defensive back Domonique Johnson (four interceptions, 13 pass breakups).

Jackson State coach Rick Comegy will rely on his defensive stalwarts to slow Dillon down.

"He's a get-out-of-the-pocket-type guy," Comegy said. "He's a tough quarterback. You really hate to see a guy step up in there like that. You have to make sure that you try to keep him in control and hope that he doesn't go out and make a lot of big plays. You can't sit there and spy on him all day long. I think it hurts your football team. You just play him the best way you can and try to keep him under control."

The SWAC championship game usually comes down to who makes the most plays. Two of the league's best teams will try to find a way to get it done as they go for all the marbles in the final game.

HBCU notes

• Jackson State's Lindsey Hunter and Sam Jefferson, Grambling State's Fred Lewis, Mississippi Valley State's Doug Porter and Southern's Carl Williams will be inducted into the SWAC Hall of Fame this weekend as a part of the championship festivities.

• Jackson State offensive tackle Mikael Harshaw had a sensational season. Harshaw, a 6-foot-4, 310-pound junior, is a key member of the Tigers' offensive line that allowed only 26 quarterback sacks.

• Grambling State remains No. 1 in the Sheridan Broadcasting Network Black College Football Poll. The Tigers have been in the top spot for the last two weeks.

• South Carolina State running back Will Ford should be one of the top players in HBCU football next year. Ford led the Bulldogs to the MEAC championship and the NCAA's Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. He was named the conference offensive Player of the Year.

• Speaking of South Carolina State, the Bulldogs had an impressive showing in their 37-21 playoff loss to defending champion Appalachian State. This was South Carolina State's first playoff appearance since 1982.

• Howard wide receiver Willie Carter could be a player to watch down the road. Carter snared 44 passes for 477 yards (10.8 yards per reception) and earned MEAC Rookie of the Year honors.

Donald Hunt is a columnist for The Philadelphia Tribune. You can reach him at dhunt37261@aol.com.