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« CSN 2008 Photo GalleriesCSN West: It Will Happen Again -- An All West Final »

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CSN SWAC Attack: Familiar Feel

floated rightBy Brandon Williams, CSN SWAC Attack Columnist

Tomorrow’s SWAC Championship game between Grambling State and Jackson State in Birmingham, Alabama will have a certain “haven’t we met before?” feel. After all, it was only a mere 363 days ago that the JSU rallied to win a 42-31 shootout to claim the school’s first conference title since 1996.

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Don’t expect that much offense this time around. Both schools rank among the top defenses among Football Championship Subdivision schools, as Grambling finished fifth in scoring defense (15.4 points per game), while JSU ranked 15th (18.8).

Both offenses were bogged down during a Sept. 20 meeting that Grambling won 14-5. JSU was held to 12 rushing yards on 32 attempts, committing three turnovers and eight penalties in the process.

“I don’t see a lot of points scored in this ballgame, at least that’s what I hope,” said Grambling coach Rod Broadway. “We expect the same kind of defensive game.”

Perhaps, but GSU shouldn’t expect the same Jackson State squad that looked unsure of themselves that steamy September night. The Tigers have gone 6-1 since that game, riding the efforts of their defense and an offense that slowly found its stride once JSU coach Rick Comegy let quarterback Trae Rutland work through early season mistakes and injuries.

Comegy knows his team must confront the pressure of defending their title along with slowing down a Grambling team that has ripped off nine straight wins and became dominant once Broadway installed sophomore quarterback Greg Dillon as his starter.

Grambling hasn’t looked back since overcoming a 9-0 deficit against Prairie View A&M on Oct. 4. It was then that Dillon took control of the offense and led the Tigers to a 40-16 rout that proved to be the difference in repeating as Western division champs.

“He’s a tough quarterback,” Comegy said of Dillon, who was named the SWAC’s newcomer of the year. “You’ve got to make sure you do your best to keep him in control, contain him and hope he doesn’t get out and make a lot of big plays.”

Containing Dillon will fall on the shoulder pads of the JSU defense, led by SWAC defensive player of the year Marcellus Speaks, who led the conference with 115 tackles along with five sacks.

But once the clock hits 1 p.m. at Legion Field and the ball is kicked off, the past 3 ½ months won’t matter. Instead, it will come down to three hours.

“We’re in a situation right now where there are no records,” said Comegy. “It’s a three-hour game, no-holds barred. You both won your side of the conference, and now what do you do in the next three hours? You either become champions or you don’t.”

SWAC ATTACK HONOR ROLE

Offensive Player of the Year: QB Bryant Lee, JR, Southern. The do-all signal-caller dominated the conference’s passing stats and guided the Jags to the brink of the West division title; never was his value more on display when he went down in the second quarter of the Bayou Classic. Southern, which led 14-0 and could have forced a three-team coin flip with a win over Grambling, never recovered and lost.

Defensive Player of the Year: LB Marcellus Speaks, SR, Jackson State. Speaks anchored an aggressive Tigers unit and led the conference with 115 tackles. He also showed that he’s capable of playing on the next level.

Special Teams Player of the Year: WR William Osbourne, JR, Texas Southern. Perhaps the most unsung player in the SWAC, Osbourne led the conference with 82 catches and finished second in both kickoff and punt return yardage, as coach Johnnie Cole constantly found new ways to get the ball in his hands. Osbourne shattered the school’s single season record with 2,304 all-purpose yards and finished second in the FCS in that category.

Coach of the Year: Rod Broadway, Grambling State. The Tigers got off to a 1-2 start and appeared to be unable to recover from the loss of QB Brandon Landers, but Broadway found a gem in Greg Dillon and parlayed him – and a swarming defense – into nine straight wins and a return trip to the SWAC title game.

Newcomer of the Year: QB Greg Dillon, SO, Grambling State. He wasn’t expected to do much, but once Landers departed and Broadway found faith in him, the versatile Dillon didn’t disappoint.

Game of the Year: Prairie View A&M 24, Southern 23 (Oct. 26). The Panthers trailed 17-3 at the half, but All-SWAC LB Zach East intercepted a Bryant Lee pass and walked in for a 23-yard touchdown to signal a comeback. The Jaguars were unable to move the ball offensively, while PV’s Donald Babers gutted out an injury and willed the Panthers to a dramatic win that was clinched by a pair of defensive stops in the closing minutes.

Pivotal Moment of the Year: Greg Dillon carving Prairie View A&M’s defense in a 40-16 win in Dallas Oct. 4. The Tigers trailed 9-0 and appeared to be on the verge of getting blown out before Dillon passed for four touchdowns to hand the Panthers their only loss of the season.