Some good things hadn’t happened to Arkansas-Pine Bluff in a long time before Saturday’s homecoming game.
For one, there’s wrapping up a winning season with some games to spare. UAPB sealed its second straight winning campaign with a 10-0 victory over Mississippi Valley State in front of a season-high 14,604 fans, maintaining a cushion in its lead in the SWAC Western Division.
Then, there’s the shutout itself. Saturday’s game is the first shutout victory for UAPB (6-2, 5-1 SWAC) since coach Monte Coleman’s first victory at the school, 42-0 over Lincoln (Mo.) on Oct. 25, 2008.
“That’s big for us,” Coleman said. “That’s one of the things we talked about during the week. I challenged them to try to get a shutout, not knowing we would need it pretty much to win the game, but just to put that feather in our cap because we’ve been playing pretty decent defense all year.”
It may not come as a complete shock that the game was low-scoring, given that Valley went into the game with the third-best defense in the Football Championship Subdivision. Although the Lions were held to 259 total yards, they don’t exactly consider grinding out 10 points on the Delta Devils (2-6, 2-4) a crowning achievement.
“I feel we could have done better,” said UAPB quarterback Ben Anderson, who completed 21 of 30 passes for 155 yards with an interception. “We had four turnovers. That’s what really killed us (and) all those penalties.”
Each team was flagged nine times for more than 100 yards.
Offensive woes continued to plague Valley, thanks in large part to UAPB’s defense. Valley mustered only 212 total yards despite getting excellent field position throughout the game (Valley started four drives in UAPB territory and twice in the red zone), but lost three fumbles and missed two field goals.
“I take my hat off to them,” Coleman said of his defense. “When the offense isn’t hitting on all cylinders, someone has to step up, and the defense stepped up. I thought we matched the intensity of their defense. We gave up a few runs here and there, but overall, I thought our defense played a game to win a football game.”
It’s the second time this season the Devils have been shutout.
“(Saturday) was a story of missed opportunities,” Valley coach Karl Morgan said. “The main thing is that (holding UAPB to 10 points) gave us a chance to be in the game. We knew they were a good football team.”
UAPB had to overcome its own case of the fumbles early on, losing two of them in the first quarter. It was a fumble by Valley running back Trey Bateaste that linebacker Jer-ryan Harris recovered early in the second to set up the Lions’ first score.
The Lions needed only four plays from the Delta Devils’ 38 to score, getting a 21-yard rush up the middle from Justin Billings for a touchdown. Billings, who had 81 yards on 18 carries, played in his first game since he suffered a broken nose against Jackson State on Oct. 6 in UAPB’s previous home game.
“I was pretty winded,” he said. “It’s been a couple of weeks since I was in game shape. The first quarter, I was getting a little winded, but as the game went on, I caught my legs.”
UAPB orchestrated 13 plays on its next drive from its own 13, going up 10-0 on Tyler Strickland’s 29-yard field goal.
Kevin Monzon’s first of two field-goal attempts for Valley was blocked on the ensuing series to preserve the score at halftime. He pushed a 27-yard try wide right at the 4:37 mark of the third quarter.
Valley’s defense came up with a big stop when Jeremy Johnson picked off Anderson and returned it to the UAPB 16. But the Devils couldn’t capitalize, losing the ball on downs after being slapped with a personal-foul call.
Strickland missed a 28-yard field goal wide right early in the fourth quarter, but Harris made his second recovery when UAPB defensive lineman Damien Lee forced quarterback Garrick Jones to fumble.
UAPB return man Andre Mitchell muffed a punt at his own 18 and Valley recovered with 3:22 left, but the Devils did not gain a yard on the following drive. They got the ball back with 1:02 left, only for Lee to force Jones to fumble it away with 15 seconds to go.
Valley starter Marcus Randle and Jones combined to throw 8 for 25 for 52 yards. Jones has been dealing with a season-long shoulder injury.