Less than 24 hours before kick-off, Southern Heritage Classic organizers – alerted to a forecast of severe thunderstorms – directed all tailgaters to evacuate their encampments near Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.
The storm hit with strong winds, thunder and lightning that sparked fire from the brand new scoreboard. But when the sun rose on "Classic Day," there was no indication of any threat by the forces of nature.
The 23rd Southern Heritage Classic Football game (Sept. 8) drew an announced crowd of 42,257 to the annual pilgrimage to Memphis featuring Tennessee State University (2-0) and Jackson State University (0-2). Tennessee State (TSU) left victorious, defeating Jackson State (JSU) 38-12.
After losing to JSU for the past two years, junior running back Trabis Ward said it was very important for TSU get the win.
"We felt like we had some making up to do," said Ward, who scored three touchdowns, netted 114 rushing yards and garnered the Most Valuable Player award.
"Winning MVP is not all about me," said Ward. "It's one big team goal. As long as I've done my part, that's all that matters."
JSU was ready to battle but could not stop TSU's offense. A blocked punt by wide receiver Rico Richardson put JSU in position to score as halftime neared, but the offense could not get into the end zone and Jackson State settled for a 21-yard field goal.
TSU answered back on a touchdown run by Ward, sending JSU to the locker room down 21 to 6.
As the game resumed after the much-anticipated half-time show featuring the bands of the two universities, JSU fans were still hopeful that their team could eliminate the deficit and secure a win. It was not be. JSU's opening drive produced three yards on three plays, forcing a punt.
The second half belonged to TSU quarterback Michael German and Ward. The third-quarter highlights included a blocked punt by TSU's Ronn Vinson, resulting in a 17-yard touchdown that gave TSU a 25-point lead (31-6).
JSU kept scrapping, driving 68 yards on nine plays, making the score 31 to 12. TSU's defense closed out the scoring, with Daniel Fitzpatrick scooping up a fumble and rambling for a 70-yard touchdown.