JONESBORO — Arkansas-Pine Bluff kicked off the 2013 football season Saturday dealing with what coach Monte Coleman called “a coach’s nightmare.”
And the Golden Lions could never wake out of it.
Arkansas State racked up 672 total yards — including 519 on the ground — and built a 48-0 lead at halftime en route to a 62-11 victory before a crowd of 30,451 at Liberty Bank Stadium on Saturday night. The game was the first meeting for both programs and marked the debut of Bryan Harsin as A-State’s coach.
But it was a bad night for a depleted Golden Lions team that dressed out about 42 players Saturday.
A UAPB team spokesman confirmed at least 12 Lions were declared ineligible for the game, but Coleman was unsure of the exact number. The players included: among first-stringers, wide receiver Willie Young, right guard LaFarius Hoskins, running back Justin Billings, left end Demarcus Berry, right end Damien Lee***; and among second-stringers, wide receiver Isiah Ferguson, running back Aaron Lagrone, wide receiver Sam Bass, right end Joel Green, linebacker Charles Williams III and strong safety Antonio Jenkins.
Coleman did not specify what caused the ineligibilities.
“There are a lot of ways of being ineligible,” Coleman said. “We’ll go back and have meetings on campus, and a lot of the guys who weren’t certified today will be able to possibly come back next week.”
UAPB next Saturday will visit McNeese State, the Southland Conference perennial power that stunned American Athletic Conference member South Florida 53-21 on Saturday.
It’s not the first time Coleman has dealt with a huge loss of players at one time. A 2011 postgame brawl against Southern resulted in 25 UAPB players serving staggered one- or two-game suspensions.
But losing so many Lions at one point wasn’t the whole story of the game, as Coleman pointed out.
“Arkansas State’s a very good football team,” he said. “We didn’t execute like we did in practice, and being without some of the guys we needed, we just didn’t execute. … The thing we’ve got to do is continue to rebuild and play harder than (how) we really played in this particular ballgame.”
The ineligibilities overshadowed the first on-field meeting between Coleman and his son, A-State junior Kyle Coleman. The younger Coleman finished with two tackles in his first start at linebacker.
“Coach (John) Thompson (Arkansas State defensive coordinator) came to me after the game and said he played well,” Monte Coleman said. “I gave (Kyle) a hug and a kiss and told him I love him. Told him I don’t have any money for him and don’t even call. I told him I hope he has a great season.”
With the loss of Billings and Lagrone, the Lions had to turn to players with limited or no collegiate experience in the backfield. True freshman Jamie Smith of Camden Fairview had 36 yards on 10 carries to lead the Lions, who netted only 12 rushing and 173 total as a team.
UAPB could not get its passing game going against Thompson’s defense in the first half. Ben Anderson completed 13 of 26 passes for 161 yards — 61 of which came on Dezmond Beverly reception — but was sacked six times and netted a loss of 26 rushing yards.
The Red Wolves had 25 first downs to the Lions’ eight and scored on nine of their first 10 drives. Backup quarterback Fredi Knighten took a direct snap and ran 21 yards for the game’s first score to open the onslaught.
It was the first of two touchdown runs for Knighten, who had 101 yards on three carries, all in the first half. He gained 79 on an early second-quarter run, taking advantage of a long downfield block by J.D. McKissic, to set up his 1-yard scoring sneak to make it 27-0.
The longest play of the night, however, was a 91-yard Michael Gordon scamper with 4:26 remaining before halftime to make it 41-0. The run tied for the second-longest from scrimmage in A-State history.
A-State tied a Football Bowl Subdivision record with four 100-yard rushers and became the first team since Nevada in 2009 to achieve the feat. Gordon had 102 yards on four carries. David Oku led the team with 124 yards on 16 carries and Sirgregory Thornton had 112 on nine carries.
UAPB’s best chance to score in the first half came after Beverly’s long catch-and-run in the second quarter. But on fourth-and-1 from the 5, Anderson threw the ball to the back of the end zone for an incompletion.
Anderson said the loss of key offensive players messed up the chemistry of the unit and the timing of each play.
“They basically did what they were supposed to do, and we didn’t,” Anderson said. Linebacker Jer-ryan Harris recovered a Kendrick Daniels fumble midway through the third quarter and returned it 37 yards for a touchdown to end the shutout. The extra-point attempt was blocked, but true freshman Jeremiah Young of Dollarway picked up the loose ball and ran it in for the extra two points. Tyler Strickland converted his only field goal attempt from 39 yards out later in the period.
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***CORRECTION — This article has been corrected from its original version. Wesley Hawthorne was incorrectly listed as being among the ineligible players. Hawthorne did not travel with the team or participate in the game because of an injury. Click here for the correction notice.