MEMPHIS --- Tennessee State scored the winning touchdown on a fourth down play with eight seconds left to capture the 15th Southern Heritage Classic with a 21-20 victory over Jackson State in Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium before more than 55,000 fans.
The thrilling finish was the climax in the battle that saw TSU came from behind three times to either tie or take the lead in the final period where the Tigers tallied all 21 points. The final score came as senior reserve quarterback Riley Walker connected with All-American running back Charles Anthony in the end zone with TSU facing a fourth-and-five situation from the JSU Tigers 6-yardline.
"The guys showed a lot of character coming back the way they did and coming through the way they did to win this football game," said TSU head coach James Reese. "It was a tough football game between two rivals and it was a great win for us."
After a scoreless first half, dominated by the defenses, TSU found themselves in the hole early in the third period due to special teams play. The JSU Tigers Cletis Gordon returned a Joey Hudak punt 73 yards to a TD and Jaime Salazar's PAT gave JSU a 7-0 lead at the 12:57 mark of the third period.
TSU's defense came through to keep the team alive. Freshman cornerback Dominique Rodgers, who was making his first collegiate start, stepped in front of a Steve Harren pass and returned it 35 yards for a TD. Backup kicker Henry Tahir's PAT made the score 7-7 with 13:10 left in the game.
On the ensuing kickoff Gordon came into play again as he quickly gave his Tiger team the lead by breaking loose for an 89-yard kickoff return. However, the JSU team had a special team's mishap of its own as Salazar missed the extra point.
TSU marched 66 yards on its next possession to grab its first lead. Anthony concluded the march with a 15-yard run and Tahir's PAT gave TSU the advantage at 14-13 with 8:50 on the clock.
Jackson State again responded. Starting quarterback Brian Green returned to the game and connected with Byron Johnson who made the catch in the end zone to give his team back the lead. Salazar was true on the PAT this time to make the score 20-14 with 6:46 left.
The Tigers took over and began their winning drive. They managed the clock and converted one third down opportunity and two fourth down chances to grab the win. Walker, who had seen starting duty in past seasons, came on in relief of Bryson Rosser and directed the offensive unit to two scores.
One of the big plays prior to the game winner was a fourth down conversion to Ivan Burley from the 19-yardline to the 11 with 36 seconds remaining. Anthony made a run to the JSU 6-yardline. The Big Blue then had two pass incompletions before the game-winner to Anthony, who came through with the big catch in the end zone.
"It was a hard-fought game and both teams played very hard," said Anthony. "We came battling and we made the big play that gave us the win."
Anthony finished the game with 171 yards on 27 carries. Walker was 9-14-0 for 65 yards while Rosser was 11-24-0 for 89 yards.
The TSU defense had several players come through with outstanding efforts. Paul Thomas had nine tackles and blocked a field goal. James Dumervil had eight tackles and recovered a fumble.
With the win, the Tigers now lead the series with Jackson State 19-18-2.