Eyes on the prize, minds on today’s game

The Arkansas-Pine Bluff football players immediately knew after last Saturday’s win over Mississippi Valley State that with a little help, today can be the day they clinch the SWAC Western Division championship.

Not that talk about the title has picked up.

“There’s been not a whole lot of talk about it,” coach Monte Coleman said. “Everybody’s been focused, concentrating on Texas Southern.

“There’s a lot of emphasis on us winning out, and that’s what the kids are focused on right now.”

UAPB simply wants to do its part to clinch the West today by winning in another team’s homecoming game in a new stadium. Alabama State has to do the other part today — beating Prairie View A&M so that the Golden Lions have a three-game lead in the West with two games to go.

“They really make us seem like the underdog because they scheduled us for their homecoming, so we just have to disappoint them on their homecoming and do what we’ve got to do,” UAPB defensive end Brandon Thurmond said. “Regardless of what goes on, we’re still going to stay strong in the end.”

The Lions already had to deal with their own homecoming distractions all of last week, leading up to a 10-0 win over Mississippi Valley State. Today, Coleman is looking for the Lions to raise their intensity to a higher level than Texas Southern’s to come away with a win.

“When it’s homecoming, your ability, or your heart or your desire goes up,” Coleman said.

Homecoming is all the Tigers get to celebrate this week. They broke a six-game losing streak last Saturday at home with a 23-20 victory over Grambling State, but the streak pushed them three games behind the Lions in the West. Their closest margin of defeat all season has been 10 points to Jackson State, and they haven’t won by more than three.

Per game, Texas Southern has struggled rushing the football with 104.2 yards and has given up 462 total yards. Five different quarterbacks have taken snaps for TSU, Rudolph Johnson leading the way with 98 yards a game on 49-of-96 passing.

The Tigers’ most recent moment of glory against the Lions came two years ago in Houston, when they beat the Lions by a touchdown to make the SWAC title game, which they eventually won. Since, they’ve had two different head coaches and have not been able to put together a winning campaign while dealing with the fallout of NCAA sanctions (including a postseason ban through 2014) for numerous violations under fired coach Johnnie Cole.

Coleman said Texas Southern’s championship is still fresh in the Tigers’ minds.

“They’ve had coaching changes, of course, but they’re still very explosive, very good football team,” Coleman said. “They’ve just had mishaps here and there.”

UAPB blew out Texas Southern 42-6 in Pine Bluff last year to wrap up a winning season, but winning the West in a town where they missed out on one two years ago would be sweeter retribution for the Lions.

Even if Alabama State falls short today, all the Lions care about is doing their part.

“We’re aware of how important the weekend is,” quarterback Ben Anderson said. “In the end, it’s another game. It’s not like anybody’s going to do anything different or something spectacular is going to happen. All we’re going to do is play football. So I think we’re practicing hard, getting ready, and it’s going to be another good game.”

UAPB Golden Lions (6-2) at Texas Southern Tigers (2-6)

2 p.m. today • BBVA Compass Stadium, Houston • Radio: KUAP-FM 89.7 • On Twitter: @pbcommercial • SWAC records: UAPB 5-1, Texas Southern 2-4