Bill Ross nearly made a tackle that would have prevented the collapse.
It was fourth-and-5 from the Arkansas-Pine Bluff 8, and Alabama A&M had the ball on its own field with about a minute remaining, trailing 27-21. Quarterback Deaunte Mason was trying to avoid a stop from the linebacker and either get the first down or go for the lead. He did, hitting G’Alonzo Milton in the back of the end zone for their fourth touchdown of the night, and with the extra point the Bulldogs held on for a 28-27 win, erasing a 20-point deficit earlier in the quarter.
“Their quarterback single-handedly beat us last year,” Ross said. “I missed a tackle late, and it’s personal. He kind of made me look bad last year on that one where I had a missed tackle, and I couldn’t get him on that fourth down.”
The game was UAPB’s fifth of the season, played last Oct. 1. But this year, the Golden Lions (1-0) don’t have to wait until then for a shot at payback.
“This is a crucial game,” Ross said. “I’m glad it came at the beginning of the year. We’ve got a lot of fire toward that team.”
The game was pivotal in the race to the SWAC championship game for both divisions. Alabama A&M went 5-2 following that game and finished in a three-way tie atop the East with Jackson State and Alabama State. Jackson State was ineligible for the postseason, and a head-to-head victory over Alabama State gave A&M the tiebreaker for the division title.
UAPB sputtered after its 3-1 start with a 3-4 stretch including the loss to A&M, ending up one game behind eventual conference champion Grambling State in the West.
“It stays there (in the mind) because that was a win that was taken away from us,” UAPB quarterback Ben Anderson said. “We know what we should have done and what didn’t happen.”
For Ross, Saturday’s meeting is even more personal. He said the Bulldogs disrespected his team afterward by trash-talking and rushing to the Lions’ sideline.
“A lot of animosity toward them this year,” Ross said. “It’s personal.”
It could be another close tilt Saturday. Both teams are coming off close victories in their openers and looking for more consistency in their performances.
The Bulldogs (1-0) had a solid defensive outing last Saturday in barely beating Division II Tuskegee (Ala.) 7-6. The Bulldogs held Tuskegee to 258 total yards and 3 of 13 third-down conversions.
But Mason, an offensive juggernaut, almost went without finding the end zone. He completed 19 of 28 passes for 171 yards and a touchdown, a 5-yard pass to Montaurius Smith early in the third quarter. The Bulldogs only gave up a field goal afterward.
UAPB beat Langston (Okla.) 17-14 on a Tyler Strickland field goal as time expired, but came up empty on its first four drives into the NAIA school’s territory. The Golden Lions totaled only 116 rushing yards and gave up 79 of Langston’s 235 total yards in the fourth quarter.
Still, coming off a season-opening victory for the first time since 2004 makes preparing for Alabama A&M easier, according to Ross.
“Alabama A&M ain’t going to play with us,” he said. “They’re going to come in here, try to pound it, try to play hard-nosed football. We’re expected to stop it and I expect us to stop it.”