Texas Southern rallies to edge Grambling 23-17, OT
By ROY LANG III
GRAMBLING — Moments after several heartbroken Grambling Tigers had to be picked off the turf by their opponents at Eddie G Robinson Stadium following a gutting 23-17 overtime loss to Texas Southern, Grambling senior linebacker Steve Orisakwe faced a mix of national and local media a proud man.
"I surely would do it all again," Orisakwe said. "Nothing was in vain. This brought our school and our family and our team together."
The Pearland, Texas, product wasn't speaking to Grambling's loss (the Tigers' 13 straight and 19th straight against NCAA competition), but the Tigers' plight over the prior 10 chaotic days.
Citing poor facilities, undesirable methods of travel and no explanation for the early-season firing of the head coach, Grambling legend Doug Williams, as one the Tigers boycotted practices and eventually refused to board buses for a scheduled game at Jackson State on Oct. 19.
The movement originally appeared to a football thing, but quickly evolved into one of the most significant sports stories in the area's history — although Saturday's attendance was dubbed by many as "at" and "below" the average.
Nationally, the Tigers' mission went viral.
"It was extraordinary," Grambling sophomore defensive back Nicholas Peoples of Shreveport, La., said. "We had seen on campus, things were lagging, gloomy. We stuck together and stood for what we believe in."
Saturday was the first time players spoke individually since the beginning of the boycott.
"It's something they had to do," said Jesse Jackson, a Grambling graduate (1973) and former member of the school's "World Famed" marching band.
"They are going to be alright," Jackson said as the current edition of the band played the popular hit "Blurred Lines" at halftime.
Thanks to the stand taken by 83 players, many of the blurred, sometimes empty lines of communication between students and administration are on their way to becoming mended.
"Steps have already been made," Orisakwe said.
The football boycott sparked students across Grambling's campus to voice concerns regarding conditions they faced daily and led school president Frank Pogue to detail what he called a potential "financial exigency" to officials in Baton Rouge, the state capital.
"I've got nothing but pride for those students today," said David Ponton, the dean of students. "The team came out hard and played together, and the student section, SGA, and student union did a tremendous job with spirit."
Peoples, flanked by his mother, Lola, following Saturday's loss, was relieved to hit the football field again.
"I was very excited to get back on the field and play the game I love," he said.
Lola Peoples served as a sounding board for her son during the turmoil.
"I'm proud of my son," she said. "I taught my son to stand up for what he believes in and to stand strong and make sure he's doing the right thing."
Grambling athletic director Aaron James said a victory would have completed a perfect script, but it wasn't meant to be.
Texas Southern (2-6, 2-5 SWAC) rallied from a 10-point deficit behind backup quarterback Jamal Small, who plunged into the end zone from 2 yards out to end the game in overtime.
Grambling quarterback D.J. Williams, son of Doug Williams, fired two long touchdown passes (82 and 60 yards) to help push his Tigers to a 17-7 first-half lead, but also threw two fourth-quarter interceptions.
Small, who replaced injured starter Homer Causey in the second half, tied the game early in the fourth quarter with a 20-yard scoring strike to Jaquaa Peters.
Grambling (0-9, 0-6) left Texas Southern a free shot at victory when Johnathan Wallace missed a 30-field goal attempt on the first possession of the extra session.
However, James said Saturday's result was just a small portion of a litany of things to take away from a trying yet productive few weeks.
"Anytime you can sit and talk about things, it makes everything better," said James, who arrived at the stadium at 8 a.m. to prepare for "High School Day" and hundreds of prospective students. "Just like in your marriage, you have to have some type of communication.
"We heard them and they know we'll listen."
Although perceived as admirable by many, the stand also proved draining for Orisakwe, who acknowledged to getting "about 2 hours of sleep a night" since the controversy broke. He said the Tigers "hoped" they would get their message across, but didn't realize the magnitude of the situation until "it reached" USA Today.
"There were negative comments on Twitter, and, on top of that, I'm still a student," he said. "I had to wake up every morning and go to class. Right when I get out of class, I had to go back to the reality that we were on strike and everybody is either with us or against us."
Clearly Saturday's loss will never be lumped with the previous 13 or 19 depending on which streak you pay attention to.
"This was a victory, a major victory for the Grambling athletic program — from football to volleyball to track to tennis," Orisakwe said. "Now the world knows who we are once again."