A year ago, the problem for Arkansas-Pine Bluff against Alabama A&M was not putting the game away. This year, it was leaving points off the board.
UAPB failed to score on its last four drives inside Alabama A&M’s 25-yard line, and the Bulldogs ran off the final 8:17 to escape Golden Lion Stadium with a 14-10 victory Saturday night in the SWAC opener for both teams. UAPB was 2 for 9 on third-down conversions and 0 for 3 on fourth-down chances.
“We weren’t converting on fourth down, and that came back to haunt us a little bit,” Golden Lions coach Monte Coleman said. “I thought we fought hard. I thought we fought hard all game long. Somebody’s got to win, somebody’s got to lose, and unfortunately, we lost this game.”
The Golden Lions (1-1, 0-1 SWAC) finished with 362 total yards to the Bulldogs’ 221, but the Bulldogs (2-0, 1-0) were held to 75 in the first half. Kaderius Lacey ran 17 times for 124 yards, including a 43-yard touchdown run in the third quarter that gave A&M the lead.
Lacey said he was looking for a game-changing play when he made the long run.
“Always,” he said. “When we were down, and my team needed a big play, … I feel like we came through,” Lacey said.
Four of UAPB’s last five possessions wound up inside A&M’s 25, but the Lions came away empty-handed each time.
UAPB’s opening drive of the second half ended with a missed 41-yard try by Tyler Strickland, who pushed it just wide left after a late intentional grounding call against Ben Anderson. Lacey’s long run came six plays into A&M’s ensuing drive.
The Lions were driving from the Bulldogs’ 45 going into the fourth quarter and faced fourth-and-1 at the Bulldogs’ 12, when Dennis Jenkins was stopped for no gain. UAPB was able to force three-and-out, but starting from the Bulldogs’ 49, the Lions’ next march ended when Julius Williams picked off a rushed throw by Anderson on fourth-and-2 from the 13.
“Those were definitely game-changers,” Anderson said. “Those were definitely points we left off the board.”
A&M then took 11 plays to run out the final 8:17. An offside penalty against UAPB and three carries by quarterback Deaunte Mason resulted in first downs on the drive, including a 1-yard sneak in the final seconds.
“We knew that if we really wanted to win this football game, once we got it back on that fourth down, we had to give them the ball with very little time to work with or stay on the field,” Alabama A&M coach Anthony Jones said.
A&M nearly lost its previous game on a final drive by Tuskegee (Ala.), but blocked a field goal on the final play of a 7-6 win.
“Last week against Tuskegee, our defense went back on the field. This quarterback and this offense is very potent, and we didn’t want to do that,” Jones said of Anderson and UAPB. “We kind of bowed up, made some plays and got some things in our favor.”
UAPB went ahead 10-7 with 8:25 left in the second quarter on a 36-yard field goal by Strickland, the hero in last Saturday’s 17-14 win over Langston (Okla.). That was on a drive where Anderson made a 54-yard carry to the 1, but UAPB was called for a false start and Anderson took a sack back to the AAMU 19.
After forcing A&M three-and-out, Anderson completed 4 of 4 passes on the Lions’ next drive, which went 79 yards to the Bulldogs’ 1 before A&M came away with a goal-line stand at the 1:26 mark before halftime.
Anderson led the Lions in rushing with 65 yards on 11 carries. He threw 14 of 23 for 189 yards and was sacked twice.
“I’m not going to say they forced us to do anything. We just played our game,” Anderson said, asked about having to run a lot against A&M. “It was just nothing was downfield, so I took the ball and ran.”
C.J. Branch, a quarterback-turned-tight end for UAPB, also got into the running act and scored on the opening drive of the game on a 1-yard carry. He lined up as a tailback in the Lions’ goal-line packages.
Coleman said he thought the Lions were ready to play the game with the successful first drive, which lasted eight plays and 48 yards.
“I just knew it was going to be our night, but mishaps … way too many penalties that hindered some of the drives we have,” Coleman said. UAPB was flagged 12 times for 59 yards.
The Bulldogs were held to one first down on their first two drives, but tied the game early in the second quarter on a seven-play, 55-yard drive. Lacey ran from 9 yards out for the TD.
The Lions won’t be back at home until Oct. 6, when they host Jackson State.