With season-turning victory, Texas Southern earns newfound respect

Texas Southern’s Johnnie Cole, in this week’s SWAC coaches’ teleconference, made a statement that might have seemed bold.

Back then, anyway.

“I’ll still don’t think,” he said, “we’re getting enough credit.”

After its dramatic overtime victory over Grambling, Texas Southern should be getting plenty now.

Marcus Wright outgained the now-deposed SWAC West leaders, rushing for 171 yards and a touchdown in the 41-34 instant classic appropriately played Thursday night on ESPN Classic. Texas Southern (7-3, 7-1 Southwestern Athletic Conference) piled up 370 yards on the ground while Grambling (8-2, 7-1) finished with 130.

Mission, and respect, accomplished.

In a way, it’s no surprise that Cole — a quarterback for TSU from 1982-85 — and Texas Southern have been overlooked. After all, from 2004-07 the program stumbled to a 4-40 overall record. Twice, under former coach Steve Wilson, TSU posted 0-11 records. Texas Southern hasn’t claimed even a piece of a SWAC title since 1968, and has never won one outright.

Then, in comes Grambling — a program that’s been to six SWAC Championship Games since the match’s inception in 1999, and has won a league-best 22 championships overall.

[Texas Southern has brilliantly transformed itself into a run-first powerhouse.]

Grambling started off playing like the veteran, championship-bound bunch. Anthony Carrothers‘ 1-yard run helped the Louisiana Tigers stake a 34-17 lead with 4:11 left in the third quarter. But Texas Southern stormed back with 24 unanswered points — topped by Arvell Nelson‘s 10-yard touchdown run in overtime. On the ensuring possession, Grambling then drove to the 2-yard line, before Frank Warren was stopped on a fourth-and-goal to end the match.

“These kids believe in this program, and they believe in what we’re doing,” Texas Southern’s Cole said after the game, struggling to fight back tears as fans stormed the field. “We make them into men, and they showed that they were men tonight. They stayed in there and believed in what we were doing, and we were able to win the football game.”

Ironically, Nelson had nearly lost the game for TSU, looking a lot like the player who got benched earlier in the season while tossing a trio of interceptions in the first three quarters on Thursday night. He finished with 21 carries for 147 yards and two scores, while throwing for 171 yards and a touchdown.

The game had postseason implications: Grambling is now left to hope that Texas Southern loses to Arkansas-Pine Bluff next week. A win there would put TSU a step closer to claiming its first outright SWAC title in the 54-year history of the football program.

“We’ll enjoy this tonight and this weekend, and then we’ve got to go back to work on Sunday,” Cole said. “We’ve got to finish the deal.”

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