By T. SCOTT BOATRIGHT, Lincoln Parish Journal
GRAMBLING — Missed opportunities.
Mental miscues resulting in a plethora of untimely penalties.
Sluggish starts with heart-wrenching and heartbreaking finishes.
The last two weeks has had a sense of instant replay deja vu that the Grambling State Tigers would like to make a distant replay.
For a second straight week, the Tigers rallied late to give themselves a chance to win only to end up with a hard-fought loss as GSU fell 20-16 to Florida A&M in Southwestern Athletic Conference action at Eddie G. Robinson Memorial Stadium.
“It’s not happening fast enough, but our guys are starting to play,” said GSU coach Hue Jackson. “And they’re starting to play together. Believing in each is just tough. You get in these situations the last couple of weeks where you feel like you have a chance to win …
“I want so bad to help them get over that hump. To win. Because that’s the last hurdle to get there. But we’re planting good seeds. We’ve got to continue to fight even harder to make plays at crucial times when we need to make them so we can go win some games.”
Grambling’s start was indeed sluggish, with Florida A&M scoring first on a 29-yard field goal by Jose Romo-Martinez to put the Rattlers up 3-0 with 12:33 remaining in the second quarter.
The Tigers tied the game on a 39-yard field goal by Garrett Urban with 1:54 remaining in the first half.
On the ensuing kickoff, Grambling booted the ball high, but none of the Rattlers moved to down the ball.
As it bounced off the turf, Kevin Thomas raced in to scoop it up and give the G-Men a first-and-10 at the FAMU 16-yard line with 1:02 remaining before intermission.
True freshman quarterback Julian Calvez, in his second start of the season, guided the G-Men to a halftime lead when he hit Lyndon Rash on an eight-yard slant to put the Tigers on top 10-3 at the break.
The Rattlers bit back in the second half, tying things up 10-10 at the 7:04 mark of the third quarter on a four-yard touchdown pass from Jeremy Moussa to Jeremiah Pruitte before moving on top 17-10 after Moussa scored on a two-yard QB keeper with 23 seconds left in the third quarter.
But just as happened during a double-overtime loss at Alabama A&M last week, the Tigers maintained their fight in the fourth quarter, something that eluded them in games earlier this season.
They only needed a spark. One big play.
That play ended up coming from Ruston High School product Donald “Red” Johnson, a junior receiver for GSU who hauled in a punt at his own 20 before racing 80 yards to paydirt to pull the Tigers within one point of the Rattlers.
Urban, who had earlier missed a field goal with 12:51 remaining on a fourth-and-four at the FAMU 21, failed on his extra point kick attempt leaving the G-Men down 17-16.
Jackson said Urban’s off day isn’t a concern.
“That was a staff decision (to go for the field goal attempt on fourth-and four),” Jackson said.
“We felt like he could make that kick. Garrett has been a really good player for us and normally those are automatic. It just didn’t go through today. It happens.
“It’s not on him. I could have coached better. We could have made more plays on defense. We could have made more plays on offense. We’re never going to put that on one person. If it’s on anyone it’s on me and our coaches. But it starts with me. And we’ve got to get everybody better.”
Romo-Martinez’s 34-yard field goal with 1:45 left pushed the FAMU lead to 20-16, but the Tigers still weren’t done.
Taking over the ball at the GSU 20-yard line following a touchback kickoff with 1:45 remaining in the contest, Calvez guided the Tigers down to the FAMU 31 before his fourth-down pass attempt to the end zone fell incomplete.
Calvez connected on 14-of-26 passes for 149 yards and the touchdown to Rash while also leading the Tigers in rushing with 113 yards on 16 carries.
Grambling has played its two previous games without the iconic ‘G’ emblazoning the Tigers’ helmets.
But it returned Saturday against the Rattlers.
“They’ve been earning it the past couple of weeks,” Jackson said. “There’s a lot of great men and women who have worn that ‘G,’ for Grambling State University, and it represents more than just playing football.
“It’s everything. It’s what you do off the field, what you do on the field, how we play football — all of it. There’s a standard that I think we need to be at. Until we got there, I wasn’t giving it back. I started seeing real signs of that. I didn’t give it back because of pressure or anything like that. I gave it back because our players are doing the things I needed them to do.”
Now Jackson needs his Tigers to keep working. One thing he knows his team needs to focus on is keeping the flood of yellow flags from descending on them as they’ve been so far this season.
Grambling was flagged 11 times for 91 yards.
“Early in the game we had a touchdown pass called back because of holding,” Jackson said. “That just keeps rearing its ugly head. And trust me, nobody’s working harder at it or pointing it out more than we are.
“We’ve just got to get better. That starts with me, our coaching staff and down to our players. We’ve got to continue to work at it, because we haven’t solved it and we’re trying to do that.”
Grambling, now 1-6 and 0-4 in the SWAC, has a bye week before the Tigers return to Robinson Stadium to play host to Alcorn State (3-3 and 2-1 in the SWAC after losing 21-17 at Southern on Saturday) at 2 p.m. Oct. 20.
Contact Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org