Lions’ Young emerges as new big-play threat

GRAMBLING, La. — If freshman Willie Young hadn’t established himself as a big-play threat a week ago at Texas Southern, he stated his case again on Arkansas-Pine Bluff’s first offensive play of the game.

Young went up the middle, pulled down a pass from Ben Anderson, and turned it into a 66-yard touchdown play to give UAPB the early lead in a 24-17 victory over Grambling State on Saturday. The youngster from Port Allen, La., finished with 77 yards on two receptions.

“It felt great,” he said. “It’s just hard work and opportunity, just getting an opportunity to make a play.

“It really set the tone because it got the team going and it got everybody involved with the game.”

This was only Young’s fifth game of the season, and he now has three catches to his credit. He made the first two count in a big way while playing behind established playmakers like Dezmond Beverly and Ladarius Eckwood.

“Willie Young is going to be a great receiver for us,” UAPB coach Monte Coleman said. “He’s got great speed, good hands. It’s a great call by coach (Eric) Dooley (offensive coordinator), and Ben Anderson laid it right where he needed to, and he never broke stride. That’s what we need. We need big plays like that to get us momentum early, and I’m very glad for Willie.”

Who’s coming out of the East?

It appears Jackson State is in the driver’s seat to meet UAPB in the Dec. 8 SWAC championship game.

Jackson State defeated Alabama A&M 35-21 Saturday to stay a half-game behind Alabama State in the race for the Eastern Division title. If Jackson State defeats Alcorn State next Saturday, it will win the East.

Jackson State beat Alabama State 37-34 earlier this season, giving the Tigers the tiebreaker.

Defensive accomplishments

UAPB defensive end Brandon Thurmond picked up two sacks Saturday to raise his Football Championship Subdivision-leading total to 15.5 for the season. He moved up to third all-time in school history for the most sacks in a season.

Also, senior linebacker Bill Ross recorded his second straight 100-tackle season and the third straight for a UAPB player. His eight stops Saturday gives him 105.

Ross also made his third interception of the season. His first two were returned for touchdowns.

Injury report

UAPB junior wide receiver Johnathan Johnson tore his anterior cruciate ligament when he was tackled on a kickoff return with 9:45 left in the second quarter. He could miss the rest of the season.

Johnson made a 23-yard return to the UAPB 47, setting up an eight-play, 53-yard scoring drive that made it a 21-7 Lions lead. He had eight returns for 152 yards and two carries for 31 yards on the season.

“If that guy didn’t make the tackle, he was off to the races,” Coleman said.

The ball goes to …

Justin Billings and Dennis Jenkins, who rushed for 130 and 105 yards, respectively, to lead UAPB’s ground game. It’s the first time this season UAPB had two players rush for 100 or more yards.

Next for the Lions …

UAPB will close its regular season at home against Prairie View A&M. Kickoff at Golden Lion Stadium is set for 2:30 p.m.