UAPB defensive lineman Brandon Thurmond (96) and linebacker Bill Ross (25) celebrate after dousing head coach Monte Coleman with a cooler of ice water during the fourth quarter against Texas Southern on Saturday in Houston. (Smiley N. Pool / Houston Chronicle)
With the SWAC Western Division championship in tow, Arkansas-Pine Bluff football coach Monte Coleman won’t change anything about the way his team plays during the final two weeks of the regular season.
“We’re going to play as normal,” Coleman said Monday during the weekly SWAC coaches’ teleconference. “It’s important we win our next two games. We started building a house, and the house isn’t complete.”
But it’s standing on the hill that is the Western Division.
UAPB earned a spot in the Dec. 8 SWAC championship game by beating Texas Southern 49-3 in Houston on Saturday and having Alabama State take a 35-21 win at nearby Prairie View A&M. That gave the Golden Lions (7-2, 6-1 SWAC) a three-game lead on Prairie View (3-6, 3-4) with two games to go.
“The thing we tried to do was take it out of everybody else’s hands and do what we need to do to win,” Coleman said.
Against Texas Southern, quarterback Ben Anderson and linebacker Bill Ross put on performances good enough to win the SWAC’s Offensive and Defensive Player of the Week awards. Anderson threw for four touchdown passes and 278 yards, and Ross returned his second interception for a touchdown this season and made 12 tackles.
The Lions’ next two opponents, Grambling State (Saturday in Grambling, La.) and Prairie View (Nov. 17 in Pine Bluff), have combined records of 4-14 overall and 2-12 in the SWAC this season, but Coleman still doesn’t expect to rest any of his starters for that reason. He’s not concerned any of his players will lose focus as they close out the schedule.
“There’s still pressure to win a football game,” he said. “It hasn’t sunk in that we won. The thing we’re doing is preparing for Grambling.”
Said Grambling coach Doug Williams: “They’re not going to come in thinking everything is rosy. They’re going to come to win.”
How long before contract extension?
Coleman already has his winningest season in his five seasons at the helm and a division title to go with it.
As his current five-year contract with UAPB comes to a close at the end of this season, both should be enough to earn him an extension. The question now is: When will it come?
Coleman didn’t have an answer for it Monday.
“I’m mainly concentrating on the season,” he said. “I’m a praying man. I trust God will open a door.”
Coleman declined to comment on whether talks of an extension have begun with university officials. But his former Washington Redskins teammate, Williams, seemed confident about Coleman’s future in Pine Bluff.
“I’m sure the power that be realizes the job that coach Coleman has done,” Williams said. “We know he’ll be taken care of.”
What about the East?
Alabama State (6-3, 6-2) and Alabama A&M (7-2, 6-2) are tied for the Eastern Division lead with one conference game remaining. But Jackson State (5-4, 5-2), which has two left, can win the East, too.
Jackson State will host A&M this coming Saturday with a chance to sweep the Alabama schools. Regardless of what Alabama State does against Southern, if Jackson State beats A&M and Alcorn State on Nov. 17, the Tigers will clinch the East. Alabama State, which beat A&M on Oct. 27, needs a win and a Jackson State loss to take the East, while A&M needs a win and losses by both Alabama State and Jackson State to advance to the title game in Birmingham, Ala.
UAPB’s only conference loss has come to A&M, 14-10, in Pine Bluff on Sept. 8.
Lions now third in SBN poll
UAPB has jumped three spots in two weeks to No. 3 in the Sheridan Broadcasting Network black college poll, which determines the black college national champion.
Tennessee State (7-2), which was No. 1 for most of the season, slipped to fourth after suffering a 49-28 loss at Murray State. That, along with UAPB’s winning streak, has allowed the Golden Lions to reach their highest ranking of the year. UAPB has never won the national championship.
Division II Winston-Salem State (10-0) remains No. 1 with Bethune-Cookman (7-2) No. 2.
UAPB has a higher ranking in the Boxtorow FCS HBCU Coaches’ Poll, sitting second behind Bethune-Cookman. In the Boxtorow Media Top 10 Poll, UAPB is third behind Winston-Salem and Bethune Cookman.
Boxtorow polls are conducted by the national radio show “From the Press Box to Press Row.”