Another week, another traditional rival That’s Tennessee State’s story as the Tigers face Jackson State in the Southern Heritage Class Saturday at the Liberty Bowl. (Photo: AP)
Another week, another traditional rival.
That’s Tennessee State’s story as the Tigers face Jackson State in the Southern Heritage Class Saturday at the Liberty Bowl in Memphis a week after their heart-stopping victory against Florida A&M in the John Merritt Classic.
The Tennessee State-Florida A&M rivalry was born out of the rivalry between Big Blue coach “Big John’’ Merritt and Florida A&M’s Jake Gaither, two of the premier coaches of the 1960s. Merritt is also at the center of the Tennessee State-Jackson State rivalry. He jumped to Tennessee State in 1963 after guiding Jackson State to its first Black College National Championship the previous year, a move that Jacksonians still haven’t gotten over 50 years later, and one that makes this a blood rivalry.
No rivalry has more intensity than this one. That is reflected in the tight scores their games have produced. They have faced each other 20 times in the 23-year history of the Southern Heritage Classic with the outcome being decided by seven points or less 12 times.
“This is a huge game,’’ Tennessee State coach Ron says. “To some of our fans, beating Jackson State makes the year. We understand the rivalry.’’
The electric atmosphere that surrounds the Southern Heritage Classic only adds to the intensity of the rivalry.
“The Southern Heritage Classic means a lot to us,’’ Reed says. “We treat it like a bowl game. We’ll visit Saint Jude’s Children’s Hospital and read to the patients. Our kids get worked up about things like that. It’s the type atmosphere you get when you go to Liberty Bowl. Our kids have taken it to heart. But the main thing is the main thing.’’
Translated, that means winning the game is uppermost in Reed’s mind.
Tennessee State is 11-9 against Jackson State in the Southern Heritage Classic. However, Jackson State has beaten the Big Blue each of the past two years.
This is the centennial season for Tennessee State’s football program, and the Big Blue began the celebration with a 17-14 victory against Florida A&M. Tennessee State won the game with a goal line stand on the Rattlers’ last possession. The Big Blue held Florida A&M out of the end zone when they stopped quarterback sneaks on third and fourth down from the one-yard line.
Tennessee State’s performance against Florida A&M got the attention of Jackson State coach Rick Comegy, who is 2-4 against the Big Blue, which had a seven-game winning streak against the Tigers from 2003-09.
“When you can beat FAMU, you’re doing something,’’ Comegy says. “We’ve beaten them last couple of years. I know they’re sick and tired of that so they’ll be up for us.’’
Jackson State is coming off a 56-9 drubbing by Mississippi State. Despite the lopsided margin of defeat, Comegy says some good came out of the game.
“We needed that game,’’ he says, pointing out that Jackson State had just one preseason scrimmage after two were canceled due to Hurricane Isaac. “I’m glad we got the first game in. It’s a shame it was against such a fine team. I would rather for it to have been a tune-up game. But we got a chance to go up against a Division IA team. We saw speed and strength and we saw speed of the game. After seeing the film and seeing themselves and how they played as a team they will play better and just (play) as individuals.’’
Reed expects Tennessee State to have its hands full against Jackson State even though they were overmatched against Mississippi State.
“They are an athletic team,’’ Reed says. “They have a big defensive front and their linebackers flow. They have a strong-armed quarterback (Dedric McDonald) and receivers who can go get it.
Jackson State defensive end Joseph LeBeau was named SWAC Player of the Week by College Football Performance Awards after registering six tackles and two tackles for losses against Mississippi State.
Reed is particularly wary of Jackson State’s passing game, especially its receiving corps.
“They have receiver with length who can run,’’ he says. “Their tight end (EJ Drewery) is a hybrid, who can split out and go deep or play in close. We have to do a great job matching their skill.’’
OTHER KEY GAMES
Bethune-Cookman (1-0) at South Carolina State (1-0): The Bulldogs host the Wildcats in a game that is the MEAC opener for both and will have a major impact on the conference race. Both teams figure to be in the thick of the championship chase. South Carolina State is the preseason pick to finish second, and Bethune-Cookman is pegged to come in third. Each posted impressive nonconference wins in their season openers. QB Broderick Waters came off the bench to lead Bethune-Cookman to a 38-28 victory against Alabama State after the Wildcats had fallen behind 21-0. South Carolina State defeated Georgia State 33-6. Saturday’s game figures to be a matchup of South Carolina State’s passing game vs. Bethune-Cookman rushing attack. Bulldog QB Richard Cue threw for a career-high 300 yards and three TDs against Georgia State. Bethune-Cookman had three 100-yard rushers – Waters (100), Isidore Jackson (123) and Rodney Scott (103) in the same game for the first time in school history.
Delta State (0-1) at Elizabeth City State (0-1): The Vikings have an opportunity to gain national recognition when they host the Statesmen, who are ranked No. 22 in Division II and are perennial playoff participants. They are coming off a disappointing 46-20 loss to Newberry. The Vikings outgained Newberry 423-356 as RB Daronte McNeill rushed for 124 yards and QB Namon Jones passed for a career-high 274 yards and two TDs. However, they were victimized by three turnovers. Delta State suffered a rare home loss, 31-23, to Fort Valley State in its opener. The Statesmen are the two-time defending Gulf South Conference champions and have won four GSC titles in the last five years.
Albany State (1-0) at Wingate (0-1): This is the rubber game in the series for these teams. Wingate defeated the Golden Rams 30-28 in the 2010 Division II playoffs. Albany State, No. 16 in Division II, got its revenge last season with a 49-28 triumph. Wingate is looking to rebound from a 28-10 loss to Saint Augustine’s after posting a 5-6 record in 2011. Albany State opened its season with an impressive 24-12 victory against No. 23 North Greenville.
Delaware State (1-0) at Delaware (1-0)
Morgan State (1-0) at Buffalo (0-1)
Savannah State (0-1) at Florida State (1-0)
Florida A&M (0-1) at Oklahoma (1-0)
Old Dominion (1-0) at Hampton (0-1)
West Va. State (1-0) at North Carolina A&T (0-1)
North Carolina Central (1-0) at Elon (0-1)
Norfolk State (1-0) at Liberty (0-1)
Arkansas-Pine Bluff (1-0) at Alabama A&M (1-0)
Miss. Valley State (0-1) at Alabama State (0-1)
Texas Southern (1-0) at North Texas (0-1)
Grambling State (0-1) at TCU (0-0)
Alcorn State (1-0) at James Madison (1-0)
Prairie View (0-1) at Lamar (0-1)
Winston-Salem State (1-0) at Concord (W. Va.) (0-1)
Miles (0-1) at Shaw (0-1)
Chowan (1-0) at Virginia Military (0-1)
West Liberty State (0-1) at Virginia State (0-1)
Brevard (0-1) at Virginia Union (1-0)
Fayetteville State (0-1) at UNC Pembroke (0-1), Two Rivers Classic
Catawba (1-0) at Livingstone (0-1)
New Haven (1-0) at Saint Augustine’s ((1-0)
Lincoln (Pa.) (0-1) at Wofford (1-0)
Clark Atlanta (0-1) at Lane (1-0)
Johnson C. Smith vs. Tuskegee (0-1), Inner City Classic, Atlanta
Edward Waters (1-1) vs. Morehouse (0-1), Rumble in the Swamp Classic, Waycross, Ga.
Ouachita Baptist (1-0) at Stillman (1-0)
Kentucky Wesleyan (0-1) at Kentucky State (0-0)
Fort Valley State (1-0) at Valdosta State (0-1)
Indiana (Pa.) (1-0) at Cheyney (1-0)
Virginia University of Lynchburg (0-1) at College of Faith
Southern Arkansas (0-0) at Texas College (0-2)
Bacone (1-1) at Langston (0-1)
Point University (0-2) vs. Concordia-Selma (1-0), Valley, Ala.
Central State (0-1) at Northern Iowa (0-1)