‘Pivotal’ Game Upcoming: Lions try to change direction when Braves visit

Off to its worst start since 2008 and second straight 0-1 beginning in SWAC football play, Arkansas-Pine Bluff is looking for a quick change in direction.

The Golden Lions (0-3) have eight games remaining this season, but another loss in conference play could prove costly in what may turn out to be a wide-open race to the SWAC championship game in December. Coming off a game pitting two division favorites — UAPB in the West and Alabama State in the East — against each other, the Lions now have to face one of the co-leaders in the East when Alcorn State visits Golden Lion Stadium this Saturday.

Lions coach Monte Coleman knows how pivotal his next game is, but it seems he won’t fall into a panic if the improved Braves (2-1, 1-0 SWAC) come away victorious.

“It’s very pivotal,” he said during Monday’s SWAC teleconference. “By no means of imagination if we lose this game, our season is over. We’re in the exact same position we’re in last year (0-1 in conference play). No reason to get hysterical, but it’s a reason to get energized and win some games.”

UAPB (0-3, 0-1) already has exceeded its loss total from last year with this past Saturday’s 40-39 heartbreaker against Alabama State (1-2, 1-0). But there were some positives in the defeat for the Lions, including season highs for quarterback Ben Anderson (291 yards and three touchdowns), wide receiver Isiah Ferguson (115 yards on four receptions) and running back Jeremiah Young (70 yards on 18 carries).

UAPB failed to do what Alcorn State accomplished in its 35-28 win over Mississippi Valley State — finish a comeback after a slow start. Alcorn State trailed 21-7 at halftime and scored 22 points in the fourth quarter to storm back.

Arnold Walker rushed for two touchdowns in that fourth quarter and finished with 18 carries for 118 yards. With that performance, he ranks among the Braves’ top 10 career rushing leaders.

“Arnold played extremely well,” second-year Braves coach Jay Hopson said of the senior from Atlanta. “He’s the leader on the team, he’s a captain and the guy we look to for leadership.”

Lions still No. 8 in SBN poll

UAPB is still ranked in one poll this week despite its 0-3 start.

The Lions slipped from sixth to eighth in the latest Sheridan Broadcasting Network poll, which crowns the black college national champion across all divisions. Bethune-Cookman (3-0) remained No. 1, followed in order by North Carolina A&T (2-0), Tuskegee (2-0), Tennessee State (2-1), Winston-Salem State (1-1), South Carolina State (1-2), Prairie View A&M (2-1), UAPB, Howard (1-2) and Florida A&M (1-2).

UAPB, the defending Heritage Sports Radio Network Black College FCS national champion, failed to receive a vote in that organization’s poll, slipped out of the Boxtorow FCS HBCU Coaches’ Poll from No. 8 last week, and fell out of the Boxtorow HBCU Media Top 10 poll from No. 9.

How ‘Immaculate Reception’ inspired Hornets

As UAPB was clawing its way back from a 21-0 deficit against Alabama State, Hornets coach Reggie Barlow had a message for his team at halftime, using a classic play in NFL history as a reference.

“We had talked to the team all week about sustaining effort,” said Barlow, who improved his coaching record to 35-35 with the win. “I told them about the ‘Immaculate Reception.’ That play would have never happened if Franco Harris never sustained effort. The young men bought into it.”

In a 1972 AFC playoff game against the Oakland Raiders, Pittsburgh Steelers running back Harris caught a pass that bounced off teammate Frenchy Fuqua when he collided with the Raiders’ Jack Tatum. The ball sailed backward toward Harris, who ran to the ball, scooped it up for the reception and turned it into a 40-yard touchdown play in the final seconds that won the game for Pittsburgh.

Two Alabama State players were honored by the SWAC on Monday for their performances against UAPB. Linebacker Kourtney Berry was named Defensive Player of the Week; he had an interception that led to a touchdown in the early going and made 15 tackles. Kicker Bobby Wenzig was tabbed Specialist of the Week after converting both of his field-goal attempts and all four extra-point tries.

Controversy surrounding Alcorn State player

An Alcorn State transfer from Vanderbilt was kicked off the Braves’ team two days before the Mississippi Valley State game.

Receiver JaBorian McKenzie is one of four former Commodores charged in an on-campus rape. In a Thursday news release, Alcorn State President M. Christopher Brown II said McKenzie was released from the team until further notice.

“Alcorn failed to sufficiently examine the allegations against McKenzie before allowing him to participate in our football program,” Brown said in the statement. “In an effort to provide educational opportunities to a Southwest Mississippi student, Alcorn State University made an error in judgment.”

McKenzie and the other ex-Commodores are free on bond and scheduled to appear in a Davidson County, Tenn., courtroom on Oct. 16, according to WKRN-TV of Nashville. The four players were dismissed from the Vanderbilt team upon being charged.

Ragsdale on younger Williams’ play

Former UAPB assistant coach George Ragsdale wasn’t successful in his debut as Grambling State interim head coach.

Despite the 47-34 loss Saturday to Lincoln (Mo.) in Kansas City, Mo., Ragsdale said the struggling Tigers (0-3, 0-1) were “a lot more efficient” offensively. D.J. Williams, the son of fired coach Doug Williams, completed 22 of 38 passes and threw for three touchdowns.

“D.J. is a warrior,” said Ragsdale, who served under Mo Forte at UAPB in the mid-2000s. “All these criticisms and things being written, that man put all that stuff aside and went to work. In my opinion, he played well enough to win, but the other guys have got to play better and help us win.”

Ragsdale added D.J. Williams, a junior, has maintained a “great” mental state although his father was fired last Wednesday. Grambling State has lost 13 of 14 games since winning the 2011 SWAC championship.

“I’m not with him at home when he’s with his mom and he goes through in his mind what has happened with his daddy,” Ragsdale said. “But when he comes to work, he’s at work.”

62-59: A defensive coordinator’s nightmare

Southern worked double overtime to defeat Prairie View 62-59 Saturday in Baton Rouge, La.

Southern quarterback Dray Joseph threw for 480 yards and six touchdowns. Prairie View’s Courtney Brown rushed 32 times for 224 yards and three touchdowns, and PV quarterback Jerry Lovelocke completed 32 of 43 passes for 353 yards and a score.

“Both defensive coordinators are possibly looking at themselves in the mirror wondering what they could have done better,” PV coach Heishma Northern said.

PV, which led 28-13 at halftime, had 772 total yards to Southern’s 625.

“When you’re facing these no-huddle spread offenses, it’s a challenge,” Southern coach Dawson Odums said.