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TSU, Southern Renew Rivalry at Merritt Classic
Tennessee State fans and alumni are finally getting the game they want to see.
The Tigers will take on old rival Southern University in the John Merritt Classic on Sept. 6 at LP Field. And make no mistake, it will be a battle — during the game and at halftime.
The schools’ competition between the football teams and the marching bands was a point of emphasis on Thursday at the annual news conference promoting the John Merritt Classic.
“I don’t know who’s going to win the game, but I know who’s going to have the best halftime show,” said Southern athletic director Greg LaFleur to the good-natured jeers of the TSU fans and alums in attendance.
TSU athletic director Teresa Phillips then grabbed the microphone, saying, “We’re going to have to get a police escort for him.”
This is the 10th year of the game that honors the legendary TSU coach, but it is the first game the Tigers will take on the Jaguars in the classic. The game will also be the teams’ first meeting since 1991.
“I think it’s the game people really wanted to see,” said Tennessee State head coach James Webster.
A number of festivities are planned to make the game a huge event. The Thursday night before the game will be a “movie premiere” — officials said an announcement about the film was coming soon. On Friday will be a “Battle of the Bands” event at the Gentry Center between the two schools’ bands and the Saturday morning before the game will be a 5K race promoting the game, which will be a first.
“This is an exciting year for us,” TSU athletic director Teresa Phillips said. “The 10th anniversary of honoring coach John Merritt is a big deal to Tennessee State.”
As far as the game itself, it will also be TSU’s first home game of the season. Last year the Tigers were on track for an outstanding season, picking up a big win over SWAC champion Jackson State, before quarterback Antonio Heffner went down with a broken leg. Webster said Heffner is healed and ready to go for the 2008 season. When he went down, he was leading the Ohio Valley Conference in passing, total offense and passing officiency.
“He’s fully recovered,” Webster said. “I really expect him to step up. He should really lead this team to victory.”
Webster is very high on the man who should be Heffner’s main target — Chris Johnson. The 6-2 receiver has already graduated from TSU and will take graduate courses this season. He caught 41 passes last season and had four touchdowns.
“He’s made some unbelievable catches,” Webster said.
TSU, Southern renew rivalry at Merritt Classic
By Matt Wilson, The Nashville City Paper
Photo Credit: File Photo, The Nashville City Paper