By Donal Ware
Special to College Sports Journal
When Anthony Jones’ Alabama A&M Bulldogs, the representative of the Eastern Division, meet Doug Williams’ Grambling State Tigers the West champion, in the Southwest Conference Football Championship game at Legion Field in Birmingham on Saturday, it will mark the second time the two coaches have gone head-to-head in the championship game.
It was Jones’ first year at Alabama A&M back in 2002 and Williams’ third year at Grambling when they first met.
Williams’ team came away with a 31-19 victory, the third-straight championship for Grambling State. Williams left Grambling a couple of years later for a front office position with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, while Jones remained at Alabama A&M and has played in three more championship games, winning in 2006.
It’s ironic that Jones is now the veteran, the elder statesman in the SWAC, 10 seasons in, while Williams is back at Grambling for the first year of his second stint.
Williams, the veteran back then, got the best of the rookie Jones almost 10 years ago.
What will happen on Saturday?
One thing is for sure, both of these men have mutual respect for one another.
See, their relationship goes beyond coaching. Both men were part of the Super Bowl Champion Washington Redskins in 1987.
As a matter of fact, they were roommates at the Super Bowl. Williams went on to have one of the greatest games in Super Bowl history becoming the first and only Black quarterback to win a Super Bowl.
“They dub me the dean of the conference because this is my 10th year, but Doug is the dean of championships,” said Jones. “He is the only coach since we’ve gone to this new format to win multiple championships. If we were to win, we would be the second.”
Williams had equal praise for Jones.
“AJ and I know each other well, have a lot of respect for each other,” said Williams. “I like what he has done over the years. For a guy that has been to the championship game as much as he has, let’s you know he’s going to have his team ready.”
It is amazing that both coaches even have their teams in this position.
The Bulldogs got the season off to an auspicious start, losing to Hampton 21-20 after holding a 20-0 lead in the Chicago Football Classic to open the season, then falling to Southern.
It looked bad for Jones and the Bulldogs coming off a 3-8 record last season, a season in which the Bulldogs lost six of their last seven.
But the Bulldogs proceeded to win seven-straight including a 20-14 victory over Grambling.
With a must win game against Jackson State on November 13, the Bulldogs were crushed by the other Tigers 34-6.
All Alabama State had to do was defeat Southern on that same day and the Hornets would represent the East in the championship game.
Southern had other ideas, winning 26-23, and giving the Bulldogs one more opportunity to clinch the East.
The next week the Bulldogs took advantage holding on to defeat Prairie View A&M on the Panthers homecoming 17-15 and head back to the championship game for the fourth time in seven seasons and the first since 2009.
Grambling’s path is even more auspicious. Picked to win the West in the preseason, the Tigers started out 1-4. For the first time in the history of the Boxtorow HBCU Football poll, the Tigers were not ranked.
They have since won six straight, including a big 36-12 victory over Southern in the Bayou Classic in their last game, which secured the West for the Tigers.
Four of their wins came by a total of 20 points.
The resurgence of the Tigers began with the play of running back Dawrence Roberts. He has rushed for 661 yards and five touchdowns in the six games, including a 201-yard performance against Jackson State.
Despite Grambling falling to the Bulldogs, Roberts rushed for 198 yards on 27 carries.
Williams’ son D.J., a true freshman was limited for the first four games in the stretch and sophomore Frank Rivers threw for 652 yards and seven touchdowns during the stretch.
In his last two games — both must wins — D.J. Williams has completed 25-of-36 passes for 427 yards with four touchdowns.
Like father, like son.
It also helps that D.J. has (Super) Mario Louis to throw the ball to. Louis, a Boxtorow All-American, averages 21.3 yards per reception and of his 49 receptions, 17 have been touchdowns.
Statistically Williams and the Tigers could have success against the Bulldogs who rank sixth in the SWAC against the pass (208.9), although D.J. was 8-of-18 for 107 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions in that September 24 meeting.
He’ll have to be on the look out for Bulldogs defensive end Cory Hart who was selected to the Boxtorow HBCU All-American team after registering 14 sacks on the season.
As solid as the Tigers offense is, the defense has some work to do. Despite the outstanding play of two-time Boxtorow All-American and SWAC Co-Defensive Player of the Year linebacker Cliff Exama, who recorded 130 tackles, 17.5 for loss, the Tigers are seventh in total defense in the conference giving up 367.5 yards per game.
First team All-SWAC running back Kadereus Lacey is a physical back who has carried the ball as many as 38 times in a game this year.
Bulldog quarterback Deaunte Mason should be healthy because of several weeks off after injuring his knee in the first half of the PVAMU game.
No matter what happens, Jones and Williams will continue to have that mutual respect.
SWAC Championship Game on Classics Sports Radio Network, Saturday, December 10, Birmingham, AL 11:30 CT pre-game.
Listen to the SWAC Championship Game on Classics Sports Radio Network. Donal Ware and Eric Curry will have the call beginning with the pre-game show at 11:30 p.m. CT.
Exclusive one-on-one interviews during the pre-game show with Alabama A&M head coach Anthony Jones and Grambling head coach Doug Williams.