BATON ROUGE, La. — Arkansas-Pine Bluff had plenty to be happy about Saturday night.
Other than simply maintaining first place in the SWAC Western Division, the Golden Lions made a little history in beating Southern 50-21 at A.W. Mumford Stadium. UAPB’s 41 first-half points are the most they scored in one half since putting 39 on Lane College in a 59-0 victory in 1989.
The 50 points are also the most the Lions hung up in at least three seasons.
Coach Monte Coleman hadn’t felt this good after a victory in recent memory.
“This is one of the best victories we’ve had,” the fifth-year head man said. “I thought all three phases of the game contributed. That’s what you want. The offense started it out, the defense was stingy and the special teams chimed in, did what they needed to do.”
The Lions (5-2, 4-1 SWAC) couldn’t be stopped early on, scoring on their first five possessions and getting an interception return for a touchdown by linebacker Bill Ross. They finished with 510 total yards for a season high, including Ben Anderson’s 296 on 15-of-20 passing with one touchdown and no interceptions.
It’s the quarterback’s second-highest passing total at UAPB.
“The numbers surprised me,” Anderson said. “I’m surprised we never had that many since we’ve been here. I thought (previous starting QB Josh) Boudreaux had that many. It’s a good accomplishment. It’s a great win, the most points I’ve put up in college, so I’m proud of the team.”
Southern (3-4, 2-3) scrounged up 373 total yards, with Dray Joseph completing 28 of 52 passes for 255 yards and two scores.
Both teams gathered at midfield for a postgame prayer, showing unity one year after a 22-21 Lions victory over the Jaguars ended with a 10-minute brawl at Golden Lion Stadium.
UAPB’s ground game didn’t miss a beat despite the absence of starter Justin Billings, who did not travel with the team following a procedure to fix his broken nose, and John Toney, who is nursing a bad groin. The Lions had 214 yards on the ground, led by Anderson’s 75.
But two more injuries Saturday further thinned the Lions’ backfield. Dennis Jenkins carried 10 times for 40 yards, including a 2-yard run to open the scoring, but left late in the first half with a shoulder bruise. Aaron Lagrone, who had scoring runs of 1 and 7 yards, left in the third quarter with a separated hip after losing a fumble.
UAPB then turned to sophomore Micheal Wilson and Alton Taylor for carries. Wilson got himself a touchdown run on a 9-yard scamper with 6:07 left in the game, giving the Lions their 50th point.
“It’s good to have a stable of backs like we have,” Coleman said.
Billings, Toney and Jenkins are expected to be available for next Saturday’s homecoming game against Mississippi Valley State. Lagrone’s status is not yet determined.
The Lions built early momentum on defense, ending Southern’s second drive with Ross’ pick-six. He stepped in front of a receiver on a short pass and had nothing but 60 yards of open field in front of him on the return.
“It added confidence, but I’m not taking anything away from the offense,” Ross said. “They played the best I’ve ever seen. I think it boosted us up, but Ben and the rest of the guys, they played a really good game.”
Anderson ran 30 yards for UAPB’s second offensive score to make it 21-0, which topped their previous largest lead of the season, a 24-6 win over Alcorn State. Southern then strung together its longest scoring drive (15 plays, 78 yards) going into the second quarter, as Lee Mitchell ran into the end zone from a yard out.
Two-and-a-half minutes later, Ladarius Eckwood caught a pass, crossed the field and took it 52 yards for another Lions TD. Lagrone then ran for his two scores, giving UAPB a 41-6 advantage.
Tyler Strickland’s 29-yard field goal early in the third quarter capped UAPB’s sixth scoring drive in seven series, counting Anderson’s kneel-down to run out the first-half clock. But things turned a little sloppy for the Lions, as they lost two of three fumbles in the quarter after not coughing up the ball in the first 30 minutes.
On fourth-and-8 from the UAPB 17, Southern’s Mike Berry juggled the ball five times in the back of the end zone before coming down with the catch. UAPB fumbled the kickoff return but made a goal-line stand to prevent back-to-back TD series for Southern.
Southern did score on its next march, as Charles Hawkins hauled in a 26-yard pass from Joseph.