So much for taking it easy against Prairie View A&M.
Arkansas-Pine Bluff posted 604 total yards — and needed every one of them — to stave off an upset by an otherwise struggling Panthers team for a 42-41 victory Saturday in the regular season finale for both teams. The win gave the Golden Lions their ninth of the season, tying the 1990 and 1994 teams for most in school history, and sixth in a row.
“We knew we were going to have our work cut out from a defensive standpoint,” UAPB coach Monte Coleman said. “I never thought we would give up 41 points, but they did a lot of good things and we did some bad things.”
UAPB free safety Jarvis Webb, one of 19 seniors playing their last home game, forced a fumble by Prairie View running back Courtney Brown that was recovered by Xavier Lofton at the UAPB 4 with 1:52 left in the game. That ended the Panthers’ last threat, which was set up by Brian Medlock’s diving interception in the end zone with 6:33 left.
“The fullback blocked down and I had seen the running back try to kick out. The handoff was toward me, and I just made a tackle, tried to make a play like a champion’s supposed to,” said Webb, who is a Pine Bluff High School graduate.
Now, the Lions (9-2, 8-1 SWAC) can start thinking about the Dec. 8 SWAC championship game in Birmingham, Ala. They will play Jackson State, which clinched the Eastern Division title with a 37-11 win at Alcorn State on Saturday.
“To play in the championship is a blessing,” Webb said. “It’s the first championship we’ve gotten close to since I’ve been here. We’ve just got to take advantage of the opportunity.”
Ben Anderson threw for three touchdown passes and 262 yards on 20-of-27 passing with two interceptions for UAPB. He ran 13 times for 97 yards and another TD that was UAPB’s last of the game.
“I’m really glad too get the seniors a win before they got out,” Anderson said. “That’s all I wanted today was to leave these seniors a win. I love these dudes. A lot of these dudes, especially Willie-D (William Dunn), they’re like big brothers.”
Justin Billings had 163 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries for the Lions, carrying most of the load with fellow running back Dennis Jenkins out with a bruised kidney he suffered a week ago at Grambling State.
“Of course, I had to pick up the slack,” Billings said. “We lost a part of our offense when he went down. That’s just what playmakers try to do, try to play like champions and be there for my team.”
UAPB wrapped up the Western Division title two weeks ago and had left on its schedule two teams with losing records. But the Lions barely escaped Grambling State last week with a 24-17 win and found itself in a foot race against the Panthers (3-8, 3-6) on Saturday.
In the middle of the race was a crowning moment for the Lions. They were presented their division title trophy at halftime.
Prairie View never led but tied UAPB 7-7 in the first quarter and came from a 28-13 deficit to pull within a point three times, never going for a two-point conversion. The Panthers amassed 476 total yards, getting 259 on 22-of-31 passing by Jerry Lovelocke and 98 on 17 carries by Brown. Lovelocke threw for two TDs and no interceptions.
“Jerry Lovelocke is a good quarterback,” Anderson said. “Every time I look at the stat sheet, I see his name right there. They’ve been putting up points, so I knew it was going to be a close game. I just wanted to do my part and put our points up. Much respect to the Prairie View offense and defense. They hit hard and play hard.”
Senior William Dunn started at quarterback Saturday and went 2 for 2 on the opening drive, completing a 5-yarder to Ladarius Eckwood for the opening score.
After Prairie View tied the game with Brown’s 1-yard rush, Anderson went to work and completed his first three passes on the next series, breaking a 30-yard run to set up Billings’ 7-yard scoring tote.
UAPB went up 21-7 after Beverly hauled in a 24-yard scoring pass from Anderson late in the first quarter. But Lovelocke led the Panthers right back with a 10-play, 55-yard series into the second quarter, capped by a 7-yarder to Jacoby Anderson. Chris Barrick then hit the left upright on the extra-point kick, which would come back to haunt the Panthers.
It was 28-13 after Beverly pulled down a 10-yard scoring pass from Anderson. Midway through the period, Anderson was sacked and lost a fumble — one of three on the day for the Lions — and Prairie View capitalized with a six-play, 65-yard march.
On UAPB’s next offensive play, Anderson threw his first pick to Medlock. One play later, Spencer Nelson took a lateral pass from Lovelocke and found Robert Primes wide open for a 42-yard touchdown. The extra point pulled the Panthers within 28-27.
But the Lions regained an eight-point cushion on the following series, when Alton Taylor reeled in a 5-yard pass from Anderson with 4 seconds left before halftime. At one point, UAPB had already totaled 438 yards.
Brown rushed for his second TD of the game to close the opening drive of the second half. After both teams traded punts, Anderson rushed 19 yards on third-and-goal to make it 42-34.
“It was a pass play that just broke down,” Anderson said. “Then JB (Billings) just turned around, led a block and I just followed him down the hole. That’s my right-hand man.”
Barrick missed a 35-yard field-goal attempt on the following drive, but the Panthers caught another break when they recovered a Taylor fumble at the UAPB 43. Lovelocke completed three passes to Jacoby Anderson including a 17-yarder to open the fourth quarter and narrow the gap to 42-41.
UAPB then melted more than 8 minutes off the clock on a 16-play, 75-yard series before Ben Anderson tossed his second interception to Medlock. On third-and-8, Patrick Gant spun away from two defenders and turned in a 33-yard pass play to the UAPB 33. The Panthers garnered two more first downs, working their way to the 2.
Then, Webb became the hero.
“I said a prayer right before we called that play,” Coleman said. “The one they scored on last … was the exact same call we had. We didn’t line up right, so we didn’t execute the play right. Subsequently, they scored a touchdown. Now, we line up right and Webb comes in and causes a fumble to win the game.”