If it weren’t for first place in the SWAC Western Division being on the line and Southern’s turnaround under an interim head coach, Saturday’s game against Arkansas-Pine Bluff would be highly anticipated for what happened at the end of last year’s meeting.
The unfortunate 10-minute brawl that covered the field of Golden Lion Stadium has forever linked both schools in infamy. It’s not just the fans in attendance that recall it. The brawl gained traction on national wires and led to videos going viral on YouTube.
The 40 suspensions that the SWAC handed out as a result only put a cap to the unwanted national attention for both programs.
Since then, UAPB and Southern have had a year to figure out how to either minimize talk about meeting after the brawl or deal with the subject head-on. As it turns out, Donal Ware has spared both teams the energy — at least for one online piece and some much-wanted national attention.
Ware, the host of the national syndicated radio show “From Press Box to Press Row” writes a weekly column for JET magazine’s website covering black college football. In this week’s edition, he named UAPB vs. Southern the Boxtorow National Game of the Week. Lo and behold, not one time do the words “brawl” or “fight” appear.
No, he went right into what the Golden Lions and Jaguars hoped any of us in the media would go into — the meaning of the game. He even dished out a little SWAC championship history involving both schools, recalling UAPB’s 2006 appearance in the title game and reminding Jaguar fans of their team’s 40-35 loss to Tarvaris Jackson and Alabama State in 2004.
The point in all that, of course, was that neither UAPB nor Southern has played in the championship since.
The Jaguars would much rather talk about that than a brawl. They’ve already had to steer away from negative news once this season, following the reassignment (or firing, whatever you want to call it) of head coach Stump Mitchell. They did that by winning three of their four games under interim coach Dawson Odums, including last Saturday’s 34-7 win over Texas Southern.
Southern quarterback Dray Joseph, despite throwing for only 193 yards per game, is a scoring threat with nine touchdown passes in six games.
But that’s about all the Jaguars can boast about themselves. They get by with 288.3 total yards per game, and their leading rusher, Darrius Coleman, averages 26.3 yards. That’s it.
To steer away from talk about the brawl, the Jaguars — and Lions, for that matter — are just going to have to play the game. Sixty more minutes of football, 3 hours’ worth or so in actual time, and enough will happen that all will be forgotten about the end of the 2011 game.
After that, the Lions can talk about homecoming against Mississippi Valley State and maybe about being the team to beat in the West. Southern can talk about being either 4-1 or 3-2 under Odums.
Until Saturday’s game ends, talk of the brawl isn’t going away that easily.
I.C. Murrell is the sports editor of The Commercial. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.