Tigers Rally, Topple Southern in John Merritt Classic
Saturday, September 6, 2008

Nashville, Tenn. - The Tennessee State University Tigers (2-0) recaptured the John Merritt Classic title rallying back from an 11-point halftime deficit to defeat the Southern University Jaguars (0-2), 34 - 32. The win gives the Tigers their best start since 2004 and first JMC victory in three years.

Offensively, TSU amassed a total of 463 yards. Antonio Heffner posted a remarkable performance winning the JMC Offensive MVP Award completing 23 of 29 passes for 315 yards.

Heffner also added three touchdowns with no interceptions. He also rushed for 68 yards to rack up 383 yards in total offense.

Wide receiver Chris Johnson turned in the best game of his college career hauling in seven catches for 158 yards and two touchdowns.

Down by 11 early in the third quarter, the Tigers ignited the comeback when Heffner connected with Johnson for an 81-yard score. Eric Benson’s kick capped a two-play 81-yard drive cutting the Jaguar lead, 11-7.

After a Southern score midway through the third, TSU marched 50 yards in five plays for a touchdown. Heffner and Johnson reconnected for an eight yard pass in the end zone. A failed two-point conversion left the score, 18 – 13.

After Southern retaliated  with a 20-yard touchdown pass, the Tigers scored 21 unanswered points.  Heffner connected with JaJuan Spillman for a 38 yard touchdown pass to top off a four-play 56-yard drive in the closing seconds of the third. A Benson kick made the score 25-20.

In the fourth, the Tigers’ defense forced two punts giving the offense room to mount two scores. Seniors Nahshon Bigham and Larry Williford led the defensive efforts. Bigham garnered the defensive MVP award tallying nine tackles (8 solo) with one forced fumble. Williford also had nine tackles (7 solo) and one interception, sophomore linebacker Rico Council complimented his teammates with nine tackles (4 solo). 

Javarris Williams rushed for two touchdowns, closing a six play 47-yard drive with 10:53 on the clock and ending a seven play 54-yard assault with 6:00 in regulation. Both Benson kicks were good and the Tigers would pile on the lead, 34-25.

With his final scores on the night, Williams became Tennessee State 's second all-time rushing touchdown leader (29). He finished with 87 yards on 22 carries for two scores.

Southern scored late in the fourth quarter but the Tigers recovered the ensuing Jaguar on-side kick attempt sealing the win, 34-32.


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