Arkansas-Pine Bluff hadn’t yet reached its fullest potential on offense when it beat Jackson State 34-24 on Oct. 6 at Golden Lion Stadium.
The Golden Lions amassed 293 total yards that day, but 263 of them came on the ground. Their passing game had sputtered for the second week in a row following a 466-total yard performance at Alabama State, but there was very little if any doubt the offense could regain its form.
“I was never worried,” quarterback Ben Anderson said. “I knew it was a possibility with all the stuff we could do.”
As it turned out, the halfway point — that Week 6 game — became a turning point in the Lions’ season.
The feat started what is now a six-game winning streak, which is one shy of the school record set in 2006, heading into Saturday’s rematch with Jackson State in the SWAC championship game.
During the streak, UAPB has racked up more than 500 total yards three times, including a 604-yard number on Prairie View A&M in the Nov. 17 regular-season finale, and had another game with 476 yards. Since the Oct. 6 game, Anderson has thrown for fewer than 200 yards only one other time — 155 against Mississippi Valley State.
“Every week, we got better, so I was glad with the way the season went and I look forward to this weekend,” Anderson said.
Anderson was rewarded for his efforts during the season with the honor of first-team All-SWAC quarterback. The redshirt sophomore has 2,121 yards and 15 touchdowns passing with a 58.8 percent completion rate.
Six other Lions — receiver Dezmond Beverly (honored as a tight end), offensive linemen Christopher Wilson, Terron Armstead and Kenny Eagle, and running back Justin Billings were name first- or second-team All-SWAC. Billings leads UAPB in rushing with 76.8 yards per game, but is coming off his third 100-yard game of the season — a season-high 163 yards in a 42-41 win over Prairie View A&M on Nov. 17.
What’s made their offense better as the season progressed? There haven’t been any changes to the lineup or the offensive scheme.
“I don’t think it was changes,” offensive coordinator Eric Dooley said. “I think the guys have executed better. I think the things where we’ve been trying to get it, it’s starting to come across now. They’re getting more familiar with it because it’s (practiced) over and over and over. So, now, they’re more comfortable with it and they execute.”
Said Billings: “We just improved on the little things and the finer details,” Billings said. “The small things make our big offense work.”
Another UAPB running back, junior Dennis Jenkins, played a big role in the first Jackson State game. He went for 154 yards and two touchdowns (23 and 50 yards) on 24 carries in the win.
But it’s not known if Jenkins will be able to go Saturday. He missed the Prairie View game with a bruised kidney he sustained in the Nov. 10 victory at Grambling State.
“I’m sure the type of kid he is, he’s working his butt off to prepare to get out there,” Dooley said. “I’m sure, at this late in time, unless it’s a guy who had a season-ending injury, he’ll be back. If you’re 75 percent, you’re going to play at 75 percent.”