Brandon Duncan showed he’s blossomed as a quarterback in spring drills. The first-string defense totaled seven sacks — five against Ben Anderson — and intercepted a pass.
So, all was well on both sides of the ball during Arkansas-Pine Bluff’s Black and Gold Game, right? Think again.
“Not very happy with what I saw,” coach Monte Coleman said after Saturday’s game. “We pride ourselves on being a lot more physical, and today wasn’t that physical for me. That’s what I was looking for on both sides of the ball.”
Anderson managed to pick up the offense after a slow start, but Duncan had done enough damage early to give the Black team a 17-10 victory in front of a small crowd at Golden Lion Stadium. The game ends spring drills for the defending SWAC champions.
Duncan, a freshman transfer from North Carolina Prep, finished with 88 yards and a touchdown on 8-of-12 passing with an interception. He engineered scoring drives on his first three possessions.
“I know what I’m capable of,” Duncan said. “I just had to be relaxed and let things come. I didn’t rush anything, my line blocked for me, and I was able to mix that with good decisions.”
Anderson, the Lions’ starting QB, didn’t lead the offense to a touchdown until the opening drive of the second half. He was sacked three straight times on a second-quarter drive, but an experienced defensive line and young offensive line — four starters from the 2012 team exhausted their eligibility — had much to do with that.
“We just have to work on the chemistry, work on ins and outs, who’s stepping up, who does what in certain protections,” Anderson said. “It’s just part of knowing the protection, part of being a quarterback. I’ve just got to watch more film, know my O-linemen. I think we’ll be all right.”
Plus, both the first-string offense and defense played an entire first half and faced off against the second string in the second half, leading to some fatigue.
“We ran 70-something plays or more, and because of the numbers I have in camp (62 players), they had to go both ways,” Coleman said. “I knew they would be a little winded, but some of the other guys, I just didn’t see the physicality.”
Coleman said the physicality was there all throughout spring camp.
Anderson finished with 108 yards on 14-of-22 passing and nearly engineered a go-ahead drive in the final minutes after the Gold came from 17-0 down. A penalty against the defense put Anderson’s unit in the red zone, but he threw incompletions on his last three attempts, including a catch just out of the end zone by Brandon Kensey as time expired.
Anderson and Duncan both quarterbacked the all-offensive Gold team, but any offensive points scored with Duncan leading the drive went to the all-defensive Black team. Tyler Strickland, who kicked the game-winning field goal in the December SWAC championship game against Jackson State, went 2 for 3 Saturday, scoring a field goal for each team.
Joel Porchia put the Black ahead when he hauled in an underthrown pass behind a defender on Duncan’s first series for a 34-yard touchdown. Defensive lineman Damien Lee forced an Anderson fumble on the next series to set up the next scoring drive for the Black, capped by a Strickland field goal.
After the Gold was forced to punt, Duncan organized a 10-play, 78-yard march capped by Michael Wilson’s 5-yard scoring run up the middle to make it 17-0.
The Gold got on the board to start the second half when Aaron Lagrone rushed into the end zone from 2 yards out. The drive was highlighted by a 35-yard Justin Billings rush, the longest of the game.
Strickland scored on the Gold’s next series.
Anderson said the offensive line got much better as the game progressed, giving him more time to scramble out of the pocket.
“I told them just give me 3 seconds,” Anderson said. “Three seconds is all I need, and they did what they could. If we can get 2 1/2, 3 seconds, I think we’ll be all right.”
Billings had eight carries for 55 yards. Kensey, a transfer from Louisiana-Lafayette, had two receptions for 38 yards.
UAPB will begin preseason camp in August. Meanwhile, it heads into a three-month break with two immediate questions: When will Coleman finally sign his contract renewal, and when will a defensive line coach be hired?
Coleman’s original five-year contract expired in December, and the coach has since been working under a gentleman’s agreement with the university. There have been no major developments in contract negotiations other than that drafts of the proposed contract have been presented.
UAPB completed spring drills without a replacement for Dennis Winston, who stepped down as defensive line coach to accept the defensive coordinator role at Grambling State. Coleman has said he hopes to hire his successor by May.
Four of UAPB’s 2013 signees attended Saturday’s game: defensive back Anthony Craft of Monrovia, Calif.; linebacker Willie Duncan of Southfield, Mich.; offensive lineman Terrance Knighten of Los Angeles; and athlete Joey Louis of New Orleans. All four are high school seniors and will begin working out with the team in August.