Lions don’t let hurry-up offense beat them

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama State turned up the tempo in the late stages of Thursday night’s SWAC game against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, but the Golden Lions managed to keep pace.

A seven-play, 69-yard drive drew Alabama State within 24-21 with 3:19 remaining. UAPB nearly fumbled away its next possession and punted to give the home team one last shot, and for a short while, it seemed the 2-minute drill would wear down the Lions’ defense after it had some success much of the game.

“That was the most nerve-wracking I’ve been in a while,” UAPB linebacker Bill Ross said. “They kept driving and getting big plays, big plays, big plays, and it seemed like we couldn’t find an answer for it.”

But the Lions did. Quarterback Greg Jenkins led the Hornets 43 yards to the UAPB 27 before throwing three straight incompletions, overthrowing an open man on one play, to bring up fourth and 10. Then Bobby Wenzig missed a 44-yard field goal, and UAPB escaped with the three-point victory.

“We forced the quarterback to make a couple of wild throws, and that really cost them,” Ross said. “It ended up being fourth-and-long, and that cost them the game. I believe our defensive line was tired out there. They were real tired the last drive, but they got pressure and that really helped (Jenkins) to make bad throws and incompletions.”

Brandon Thurmond had another solid game on the defensive line, finishing with seven tackles including his FCS-best seventh sack of the season.

Ross said no-huddle and 2-minute drills are always hard to stop because of the defensive alignments the offense can force a team into.

“There are so many opportunities,” Ross said. “There are only three down linemen, so the pass rush isn’t quite as effective. So, a 2-minute offense is hard to stop. I knew it was happening. I was hoping the offense would take a little more time off the clock, but we came out with a win and it’s a good team win.”

Lions coach Monte Coleman said the hope was to minimize Alabama State’s efficiency on offense because it would be difficult to stop it. Instead, the Golden Lions allowed a season-high 21 points, four more than the goal Coleman sets for the defense each game, and gave up 109 of the Hornets’ 330 yards in the final 15 minutes.

“When we needed plays, we stopped them,” Coleman said. “We had a couple of mental errors that gave them plays, and that’s something we’ll work on next week.”

In fact, UAPB finished with 17 penalties for 172 yards. The Lions committed two personal fouls on Alabama State’s first scoring drive in the second quarter, which tied the game at 7.

Ferguson has his breakout play

UAPB junior wide receiver Isiah Ferguson waited patiently for his big play in a game to come.

After strong performances in spring and preseason camps, the junior transfer from Mt. Vernon, N.Y., had only one catch for 20 yards to his credit going into the Alabama State game. He finished with one catch again, but it was a 39-yarder that led to the Lions’ first score of the game on their second possession.

“That was a very nice play,” Ferguson said. “Coach called out my play, called out my name. The linemen did a good job blocking and the quarterback made a good play. I got the ball and I was just trying to run and get as many yards as I could.”

Ferguson’s catch went to the Alabama State 28, and two plays later Ben Anderson turned in a 21-yard carry to the 4, leading to Justin Billings’ scoring carry. The drive went 80 yards in nine plays.

No sign of Dalton

Coleman decided to hold out senior linebacker Joe Dalton on Thursday. Dalton was a game-time decision, battling with an injured right foot since preseason camp, but had practiced earlier in the week.

Dalton shared the team lead in sacks last season with seven.

The game ball goes to …

Billings for his season-high 127 yards on 12 carries and two touchdowns, including a 39-yard scoring run at the end of the third quarter.

Next for the Golden Lions …

UAPB will travel to Nashville, Tenn., for its final nonconference game of the season against Tennessee State of the Ohio Valley Conference. It will be homecoming for the Tigers (3-0, 1-0 Ohio Valley), who are ranked third in the Sheridan Broadcasting Network Black College Football Poll.

UAPB and Tennessee State will kick off at 5 p.m. Sept. 29 at LP Field. Tennessee State first has a date with No. 1-ranked Bethune-Cookman this Saturday in Daytona Beach, Fla.