Countdown to Birmingham: Golden Lions return to work as title game quickly approaches

When a team has won six straight games and clinched a division championship by a five-game margin, it’s not likely that any changes have to be made within the team.

Even if it has to wait three weeks to play again.

Arkansas-Pine Bluff is in that situation, just counting down the days until it plays in the SWAC championship game against Jackson State. The game is set for noon Dec. 8 at Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala.

The UAPB players returned to campus Sunday after taking a four-day break for the Thanksgiving holiday and practiced Monday for the first time in almost a week. The Lions have been working out under the lights on their grass turf in Golden Lion Stadium since the end of the regular season.

Although their last two ballgames were close contests against losing teams, changes to their scheme were not in order.

“I’m not sure we have to make a lot of adjustments,” coach Monte Coleman said. “We just have to do what we do well. We have to win the war up front between the offensive and defense line.”

UAPB (9-2, 8-1 SWAC) has done that most of the season, finishing third in the conference in total offense with 406.3 yards per game and ranking second in total defense at 307.7 yards allowed. The team also has led the conference in rushing offense at 204.7 yards.

When UAPB and Jackson State met on Oct. 7 in Pine Bluff, the Lions had success on the ground thanks in large part to Dennis Jenkins’ 154 yards on 24 attempts in a 34-24 win. The passing game, however, struggled to just 30 yards from Ben Anderson despite his two touchdown strikes.

Still, Coleman’s not focused on doing anything different against Jackson State (7-4, 7-2), which has won five straight since the loss.

“Just trying to perfect the things we’ve done all season,” Coleman said. “It’s more what we do as opposed to what anyone does.”

Coleman said the Lions practiced Monday like they had their legs under them after the long break. Most of the team is healthy, but at least two players did not practice due to injury.

Senior tight end Patrick Wray will miss the championship game with a broken ankle he suffered in the regular-season finale against Prairie View A&M. Junior linebacker Jer-ryan Harris is recuperating from an elbow injury he sustained in the game, but Coleman said Harris is making progress.

“The elbow is doing a lot better,” Coleman said. “I’m opting to keep him out another week. I’m hoping the swelling goes down. He’s doing 100 percent better than he was last week.”

Coleman also said he hasn’t had any discussion with UAPB officials in recent days about a contract extension. The championship game will mark the end of Coleman’s five-year deal with the school.

“I’m hoping within the next two weeks we can talk about extension,” he said. “I’m believing that I will get an extension.”