Special to The Commercial/Mike Adam
Justin Billings of UAPB ran for 163 yards Saturday against Prairie View A&M.
Finally, Arkansas-Pine Bluff gets to focus on the very thing it clinched a spot in more than two weeks ago.
And the Golden Lions also can focus on an opponent for the game, too.
Coming off a close win at Grambling State, UAPB had to deal with distractions surrounding its final regular-season game of the year against Prairie View A&M. It was Senior Day for 19 Golden Lions, and the team didn’t have another title or berth to play for — just a winning streak and hopes of a 10-win season.
Prairie View couldn’t spoil the day, losing 42-41 despite gaining 476 total yards. UAPB had 604.
“We had some little boo-boos with the defense as far as responsibilities with some of the other guys that played the first couple of series, but we never got back on track,” UAPB coach Monte Coleman said. “So, with all the festivities, with halftime, with the seniors getting their plaques, there were a lot of distractions, and that’s another reason why I’m glad the regular season is overwith.”
UAPB (9-2, 8-1 SWAC) had just extended a 28-27 lead to 35-27 before halftime, when the team was presented its Western Division championship trophy before heading into the locker room. Prairie View (3-8, 3-6) had scored on back-to-back drives, capitalizing on a Ben Anderson interception, to pull within 28-27.
While both defenses struggled Saturday, Coleman blamed human nature for his team’s letdown the past two weeks.
“It’s human nature that when you achieve what you try to achieve, there’s going to be some letdown,” Coleman said. “… It’s not coaching. It’s not intentional. It’s just something that subconsciously happens.
“Can we prevent it? Probably not. We did everything we could in practice. We had a great week of practice both weeks.
Now the Lions, winners of six straight, get to actually turn their attention to the Dec. 8 SWAC championship in Birmingham, Ala., where they will play Jackson State (7-4, 7-2). The Tigers, who lost 34-24 at UAPB on Oct. 6, beat Alcorn State 37-11 to punch their ticket.
“That’s a good team to play, but I’ve got confidence in our team that we’re going to come out with a victory,” senior defensive end Brandon Thurmond said. “It’s just a lot of stuff the defense has to work on the next (three) weeks.”
Jackson State has won five straight since losing to UAPB, defeating two teams with a winning record in the process (Alabama State and Alabama A&M). The Tigers have won by 14 or more points the past three weeks and scored 37 or more points in four of the five straight wins.
“Totally different football team than what we played early on,” Coleman said of Jackson State. “I’m curious to see their last couple of football games. … It really didn’t matter who we played on the East. It could have been any of them. We’re just excited that we got this victory (Saturday) and hopefully we can build off that.”
Coleman finalist for Eddie Robinson Award
Coleman is one of 20 finalists for the Eddie Robinson Award, it was announced Monday.
The award honors the national Football Championship Subdivision coach of the year and will be presented Dec. 17 at the FCS Awards Banquet and Presentation in Philadelphia.
Coleman’s Golden Lions finished with the best record in the SWAC, winning the Western Division by five games over second-place Prairie View A&M. UAPB, which is on a six-game winning streak, is one victory from a setting a school record of 10 in a season.
Other Eddie Robinson Award nominees included Clint Conque, who led eighth-ranked Central Arkansas (9-2) to its second straight berth in the FCS playoffs and a current six-game winning streak, and Karl Morgan, whose 5-6 Mississippi Valley State team has one more win than its combined total from the previous three seasons. Morgan’s defense also ranks fourth in the FCS.
Lions closer to FCS Top 25
UAPB earned 70 voting points in this week’s edition of The Sports Network FCS Top 25 poll, which would rank the Lions 32nd in the nation. It’s the closest they’ve come to the Top 25 all season.
The Lions remained third behind Winston-Salem State (11-0) and Bethune-Cookman (9-2) in the Sheridan Broadcasting Network and Boxtorow HBCU Media Top 10 polls. Jackson State is seventh in both polls.
In the Boxtorow FCS HBCU Coaches Poll, UAPB is second behind Bethune-Cookman.
The Sheridan poll determines the black college national champion. The Boxtorow polls are conducted by the national radio show “From the Press Box to Press Row.”