Lessons learned pay off a year later for Grambling State

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Lessons learned pay off a year later for Grambling State

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Grambling State’s Martez Carter (4) leaps over Alcorn State’s Leishaun Ealey and scores the winning touchdown in the Southwestern Athletic Conference Championship game Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016, in Houston. (Yi-Chin Lee/Houston Chronicle via AP)

Grambling State coach Broderick Fobbs still remembers the 2015 Southwestern Athletic Conference Championship game against Alcorn State.

The Tigers lost 49-21 and missed out on a trip to the inaugural Celebration Bowl at the Georgia Dome. In the game, Grambling State was forced into several mistakes, including three interceptions. Fobbs said the game taught him a lesson. He had to get his team bounce back from their mistakes.

“We don’t look at losing as losing, but we look at it as learning,” Fobbs said. “Anytime we go through different things, we learn from it and become a better team. I think our team has learned from that.”

In the offseason, Fobbs made it a point to mold the team into a closer unit. He analyzed the players individually and worked on building their mental and physical strengths. As a result, the Tigers learned how to compete as one — which is named the Grambling way.

“We are only as strong as our weakest link,” Fobbs said. “We focused on making our weaknesses our strengths and our strengths even stronger. We set a foundation that focuses on playing a certain brand of football regardless of the situation.”

The offseason training paid off.

During the 2016 regular season, Grambling State was undefeated in conference play (9-0) and finished with a 10-1 regular-season record. The only blemish was a 31-21 loss to Arizona on the road. Statistically, the Tigers averaged 41.5 points per game and led the FCS in red-zone defense.

The Tigers also had 11 players honored on the first-team All-SWAC, including Offensive Player of the Year Devante Kincade and Defensive Player of the Year Donavan McCray. Kincade threw 28 touchdowns and led the conference in completion percentage (65.2 percent). McCray had 11.5 tackles for loss on the season.

Both players helped Grambling reach back-to-back SWAC championships and garnered Fobbs a third consecutive SWAC coach of the year award.

“It is huge for us as our conference and peers picked these two as the pillars of our conference,” Fobbs said.

Grambling’s success propelled them to a rematch with Alcorn State in the 2016 SWAC championship game. The game served as a chance for retribution but it didn’t start out that way.

Alcorn State took a 17-0 lead into halftime and forced Grambling to climb out of an early hole. However, Grambling rebounded to close the game on a 27-3 run. Kincade led the charge by going 15-for-22 for 232 yards and two touchdowns. The go-ahead score was scored from Martez Carter. He took a 31-yard run into the end zone to set the SWAC record in all-purpose yards (348).

Fobbs said the victory was because the Tigers remembered that they can bounce back from anything. He was proud of his team for battling back and overcoming an emotional deficit.

“It is huge for our program and our kids,” Fobbs said. “Everything that we have gone through is a learning tool to be at this particular point in the season. For our team and our players to fight back in the midst of all those struggles shows the heart of a champion and our determination.”

On Saturday, Grambling State plays against North Carolina Central in the second annual Celebration Bowl. Fobbs knows it will be a game in which the Tigers will have to battle on all three levels to win.

“We have seen a team that has played extremely well and are undefeated for a reason,” Fobbs said. “They throw the ball well and their quarterback is an athlete, can run and gets the ball to his playmakers. Defensively, they are good up front and they are good in the passing game.”

Fobbs wants the Tigers have to cash in on a goal set at the start of the season — to get win the last possible game.

“We want to win the national championship and that has been our goal since the beginning of the season. There is only two schools that have an opportunity to achieve that goal and we are one of them.”

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