By T. Scott Boatright
Sometimes it only takes a change to spark a turnaround for a struggling football team.
That certainly looked true for Grambling State on Saturday in the Tigers’ home opener at Eddie G. Robinson Memorial Stadium, as true freshman Noah Bodden got his first career start and ignited GSU to a 37-28 win over Alabama A&M, the No. 1 team in Black College football.
Bodden didn’t let a shaky start deter him. With the Tigers trailing 14-0, Bodden and the Tigers exploded for 24 unanswered points.
While Bodden might have provided the spark for a GSU offense that had struggled through its first four games and were without running back CJ Russell, who is nursing an injury, it was the Tigers’ defense that helped fire the Grambling rally as they forced three Alabama A&M turnovers and turned them into three touchdowns.
Alabama A&M (3-1, 1-1 in the Southwestern Athletic Conference), opened with an 87-yard scoring drive and pushed its advantage to 13-0 at the 13:15 mark on an eight-yard scoring strike from quarterback Aquiel Shields to Dee Anderson.
That was the second of four scoring connections on the day for the Alabama A&M duo — Anderson hauled in another eight-yard reception for the Bulldogs’ opening score.
Grambling’s offense struggles continued on the ensuing, but then the Tigers’ defense flipped the switch and fired up the team on both sides of the ball.
Brendan Vaughn picked off a Shields pass and returned it 20 yards to the Bulldogs’ 40-yard line.
Bodden then suddenly got hot, firing a 13-yard scoring strike to tight end Tony Forrest that cut the AAMU advantage to 14-7 with 7:58 left in the first half.
Then Grambling’s special teams got in on the action as Garrett Urban’s sky kick bounced around the 25-yard line and rolled to the Bulldogs’ 15 before being pounced on by GSU’s Rey Estes.
Urban was able to take advantage of his own good kickoff as he booted a 39-yard field goal at the 6:16 mark of the second quarter to cut the Alabama A&M lead to 14-10.
Grambling’s defense was back at it on the ensuing series as Quincy Mitchell picked off a pass and returned it to the AAMU 15.
On first down, Bodden’s increasing confidence showed as he threw a touchdown pass to Dorrell James to put Grambling on top 17-14.
Grambling’s defense did it still again two plays into the ensuing series for the Bulldogs as Sun Fields sacked Shields and forced a fumble. Grambling’s Cameron Richardson scooped and scored from the Bulldogs’ 21-yard line as the Tigers pushed their lead to 24-10 with 4:38 remaining in the first half.
“It’s a huge win,” said GSU coach Broderick Fobbs after the game. “I mean, it’s the conference champions from the spring season. But, we’ve got a freshman (Bodden) that’s going to be a really good player. He’s a gamer, he’s going to be a great one. We just gotta keep him up right and keep him healthy and just continue to teach him the things he needs to know.”
It was Bodden’s turn to do it again at the 3:25 mark of the third quarter as he connected with Kobe Ross on a 60-yard scoring strike that put the G-Men up 31-14, and Urban upped that lead with 11:37 remaining as his 27-yard field goal increased the Grambling lead to 34-14.
But there was a reason the Bulldogs entered the game undefeated and as defending Black College national champions, and there was still plenty of time left to show it.
First Glass threw a 66-yard touchdown pass to Idieu Hilare with 10:53 left on the clock to cut the GSU lead 34-21.
Then, after holding the Tigers to a three-and-out possession, Glass drove the Bulldogs 80-yards on 13 plays, hitting Anderson on yet another eight-yard scoring strike to shrink Gramlbing’s lead to six points at 34-28 with 3:38 remaining.
Things got truly scary for the Tigers when Jamal Irby picked off Bodden deep in AAMU territory to give the Bulldogs the football at their own 19 with 2:57 left in the contest.
But again Grambling’s defense came through as Glass was intercepted on the next play by Richardson, who returned the pick to the AAMU 17.
That interception set up a 27-yard field goal by Urban to seal the win with 43 seconds left.
Grambling State finished with 275 total yards — 191 yards passing and 84 rushing.
Bodden connected on 16-of-34 attempted passes for 191 yards with three touchdowns and one interception while Darqueze Brutton led the Tigers in rushing with 82 yards on 22 carries.
Ross topped GSU receivers with four catches for 81 yards.
“Anytime you’re playing against a great offense, there’s gonna be points scored,” Fobbs said. “We just feel if we can score points then we can win football games because our defense is really good. We played hard today, and we played with passion. I thought from the beginning of the day when we got up this morning for team chapel we had passion, and that’s what it takes to win football games. The future is bright, but we want the future to be right now.”
Grambling State hits the road next Saturday as the Tigers visit Alcorn State.
Photos by GLENN LEWIS
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