LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas-Pine Bluff’s defense held up against Langston as much as the threat of bad weather did in the second half.
So did Tyler Strickland’s confidence.
UAPB freshman defensive lineman Demarcus Berry forced a fumble from Langston quarterback Jac’Quon Miles with 1:01 remaining in the game, setting up the winning drive capped by Strickland’s 27-yard field goal as time expired in a 17-14 Golden Lions victory Saturday night at War Memorial Stadium.
Strickland redeemed himself after missing a 36-yarder wide left on the opening drive.
“I was just trying to focus on the next kick,” said Strickland, a sophomore who transferred this season from a California junior college. “The first one I missed was left in my head a little bit, so coach told me just focus on the next one. I didn’t think the next one would be the game-winner.”
The win was UAPB’s first season-opening feat since 2004 and the first for fifth-year coach Monte Coleman. He said the Golden Lions are “poised to do great things” after the victory.
Defensive lineman Brandon Thurmond, who had two sacks, recovered Miles’ fumble and returned it 29 yards to the UAPB 30. Justin Billings opened the drive with a 13-yard rush, and two plays later quarterback Ben Anderson ran 9 yards to the 8. Dennis Jenkins was then stopped for a 2-yard loss, setting up the field goal for Strickland.
“I was trying to pull my head up to see if the ball went in, and I hadn’t even hit the ball yet,” Strickland said.
Anderson liked the Golden Lions’ chances on the final drive.
“Looking at where the ball was, I knew we were going to win,” Anderson said. “We were in field goal range and we were going to put it in. That’s just what we did. On that run, I just thought ‘end zone, end zone,’ but I didn’t want to turn the ball over, so I knew I could run and get the first down.”
The clock actually showed 1.8 seconds remaining after the made kick, but that ran out before the ball could be put in play again.
Anderson completed 16 of 31 passes for 168 yards and a touchdown to Dezmond Beverly in the second quarter. He did not throw an interception, but at one point threw nine straight incompletions, most of them dropped passes.
Langston tied the ballgame at 14 with 10:44 left in the game on a 1-yard carry by William Taylor. A pass interference call against UAPB pushed the ball to the UAPB 11, and Miles made a 9-yard rush to set up the touchdown run.
The Golden Lions failed to earn a first down on its next three possessions but also forced Langston to go three-and-out twice. The NAIA Lions from Oklahoma were seven plays into their drive from their own 19 when Berry caused the fumble.
“I don’t think one play loses the game,” Langston coach Mickey Joseph said. “Like I said, we left some plays on the field.”
The game was delayed with 5:37 left in the second quarter and UAPB ahead 7-0 because of lightning in the area, forcing both teams and the fans into the tunnels. As a result, the halftime period was scrapped, and the bands performed after the game.
The long break apparently did some harm to the UAPB defense. Two plays after play resumed, Jac’Quon Miles found Kyron King up the middle for a 28-yard scoring pass to tie the game.
“The touchdown didn’t have to be given up, I don’t think,” Coleman said. “We were in a good coverage for it. We just had a mental error. But overall, anytime you have a delay like that, you have to expect something a little contrary when you come back out.”
The Golden Lions rebounded with an 11-yard, 78-play march near the end of the half. Anderson had found his rhythm and threw four of his nine straight completions on the drive, including a 19-yarder to Thomas Winters. Anderson sealed the drive with a 33-yard pass to Beverly for the touchdown.
“He threw the ball well with the wind and against the wind,” Coleman said. “We’ve got to shore up some of the catches. I thought his reads were good, and it’s just a matter of shoring up some things for us to be a better offensive team.”
It took UAPB five drives to open the scoring. The Golden Lions made it to Langston territory each time, even starting twice beyond midfield. But Strickland missed his first field goal attempt and the Golden Lions punted twice.
On the fifth drive, Anderson made a stellar play to help put UAPB on the board. As he started to fall on an option play in the second quarter, he made a late pitch to Dennis Jenkins, who dodged one defender and sprinted 19 yards down Langston’s sideline for the touchdown with 7:39 left.
“That’s something we had been practicing on,” Jenkins said. “I had to stay with him and stay alive all the time while we’re running, so it’s something I expected. We just did a good job of making sure it was solid.”
Billings, who started as the lone tailback for UAPB, finished with 37 yards on 11 carries. Jenkins led the team with 49 yards on 10 carries.
Beverly led UAPB’s receivers with 77 yards on six receptions.
Miles completed 12 of 22 passes for 154 yards and a touchdown for Langston, but threw an interception to defensive back David Watson midway through the third quarter. Brendan Crawford was 2 for 3 for 18 yards.
“A couple of guys said it was an ugly win, but in my book there’s no such thing,” Coleman said.