Arkansas-Pine Bluff’s offense went into the season with hopes for plenty of offensive production with a more mature, sophomore quarterback and a mix of experienced and young running backs.
So, the 510 total yards UAPB racked up against Southern didn’t entirely come as a surprise. It was just the type of game the Golden Lions felt they were capable of.
“This is what I’ve been telling the guys the whole year: They have the potential to do great things. Now they just have to continue to do it,” second-year offensive coordinator Eric Dooley said.
The Lions (5-2, 4-1 SWAC) had only surpassed the 300-yard mark three times this season before the Southern game. Even though they went for 466 at Alabama State, 510 was more of an eye-opener.
Saturday’s performance was also timely for the Lions, who’ll need another solid offensive game to break down the Football Championship Subdivision’s third-best defense in Mississippi Valley State (329.14 yards allowed).
“Two things come to mind,” UAPB coach Monte Coleman said. “First, the bye week. We were able to get guys rested up. I thought we ran around like we had fresh legs. We worked extremely hard the bye week and we came back and worked hard this week.
“We had a lot on the line. I think the guys rose to the occasion, knowing the team that wins this will be in first place in the West.”
UAPB, in fact, extended its lead over Southern and Prairie View A&M in the West by two games with four to go. Dooley said the magnitude of the game got the Lions going.
It was more than the yardage that might have raised eyebrows. UAPB scored on six of its first seven drives, including the first five. The only drive in that span when the Lions didn’t score, quarterback Ben Anderson took a knee to run out the clock in the first half.
“I think they just built up on top of each other,” Anderson said of the drives. “We scored and then Bill (Ross) took the interception (60 yards for a touchdown) and we drove down again and scored and it kept building up like a ball rolling downhill. We kept getting momentum and it pulled us all the way to the end of the game.”
Anderson threw for a career-high 296 yards on 15-of-20 passing. For his efforts, he was named HBCU National Player of the Week by the national radio show “From the Press Box to Press Row”.
It was only the second game this season he broke the 200-yard mark, and it was a nice rebound from throwing for only 30 yards two weeks earlier in a home win over Jackson State.
“Maybe we just started clicking,” Anderson said. “Maybe we’ve been together for a long time. Maybe defense made plays. We wanted this real bad. We wanted to keep number one. We wanted to show everyone in the SWAC we’re for real.”
The Lions still came up with 214 rushing yards despite missing two of their running backs, Justin Billings (broken nose) and John Toney (groin injury). Dennis Jenkins ran for a touchdown before leaving with a shoulder bruise, and Aaron Lagrone turned in two TDs before a separated hip sidelined him the rest of the game.
Lagrone had 21 yards on seven carries.
“I was pleased with Lagrone,” Dooley said of the redshirt freshman from Watson Chapel. “I think the kid has a wealth of talent and he’s waiting to explode.”
Lagrone’s status for this Saturday is not yet known. Billings, Toney and Jenkins are expected to play, helping the Lions with their depth in the backfield.