NASHVILLE, Tenn. — This was the game where Arkansas-Pine Bluff was supposed to prove it was a true contender for black college football’s national championship.
It did seem the Golden Lions belonged in the discussion, but only for a short while.
Tennessee State scored 28 unanswered points and kept UAPB’s offense virtually silent most of the game in posting a 40-13 nonconference victory at LP Field on Saturday evening. The game was the Tigers’ first as the No. 1 team in the Sheridan Broadcasting Network’s black college poll, a week after knocking off previous No. 1 Bethune-Cookman.
UAPB (3-2), which just broke into the poll at No. 7, led 10-0 and had 144 total yards through the first quarter, but could not maintain its offensive rhythm or keep Tennessee State’s offense contained from there. The Lions, who came into the game with the sixth-best total defense in the Football Championship Subdivision at 262 yards per game, yielded 463 to the Tigers (5-0) and mustered 280 of their own.
Coach Monte Coleman had no explanation for the Lions’ bad turn of events.
“They had a good game plan offensively against some of the things we do,” Coleman said. “In some of the cases, we were trying to do too much and not doing what we’re supposed to do. The coverages that we called, I felt like, were OK for what they were running. We just didn’t execute.”
Michael German accounted for 262 of the Tigers’ yards on 18-of-35 passing with two touchdowns, both of which came in the fourth quarter. Telvin Hooks ran for a career-high 108 yards and two TDs on 14 carries and Trabis Ward added another scoring run for Tennessee State.
The offensive efficiency UAPB displayed in its Sept. 20 victory at Alabama State, a 466-yard outing, seemingly carried over into the first quarter at Tennessee State. Ben Anderson, who completed 4 of 6 passes for 117 yards in the opening quarter, finished 11 for 24 for 182 yards and a touchdown to Ladarius Eckwood.
UAPB failed to rush for 200 yards for the first time in three games, netting only 86. Justin Billings ran 10 times for 44 yards to lead the Lions.
“Everytime I think about it, it’s like the offense went two steps back instead of forward pretty much,” Anderson said.
Most of Eckwood’s 117 yards on five catches came in the first 15 minutes, including a 42-yard catch on the Lions’ first offensive play that led to Tyler Strickland’s 29-yard field goal.
UAPB started its next drive on its own 12 after forcing Tennessee State to punt. Eckwood capped that march with a 55-yard catch and run in which he weaved through traffic and hurdled over a defender for a touchdown and a 10-0 lead.
Then the offensive woes struck Lions.
Anderson had a pass batted and intercepted by Antonio Harper, who returned it to the Lions’ 5. But on the next play, cornerback Gyovanni Harvey recovered a Ward fumble forced by linebacker Jer-ryan Harris, only for UAPB to go three-and-out.
Tennessee State took advantage with an eight-play, 69-yard drive ending with a 15-yard Hooks TD run. Brandon Thurmond blocked the extra-point attempt and holder Devin Wilson threw an incompletion to keep the score at 10-6.
UAPB did not convert a first down and was held to minus-4 yards in three second-quarter possessions. Tennessee State clawed to the lead with two Jamin Godfrey field goals, the last one coming as time expired in the half.
The Lions managed to establish the run to begin the second half. The 11-play, 62-yard drive led to a 30-yard Strickland field goal which gave UAPB the lead back at 13-12.
But the lead — and UAPB’s effectiveness on offense — didn’t last long. The Lions failed to earn a first down on their next four drives.
Anderson said the Tigers’ defense didn’t pose any new problems.
“They blitzed a lot,” he said. “They blitzed about on every down, but it’s not anything we haven’t seen before. We just got to know what to do to beat it.”
German found Travis James wide open on a 50-yard pass to the UAPB 12 on the ensuing series. Four plays later, Hooks rushed 2 yards for the TD.
Hooks was just getting going. He had two big carries for 46 yards that got Tennessee State to the UAPB 21 on its next series, and the Tigers made it a 26-13 lead when Ward ran in from a yard out on fourth-and-goal.
UAPB lost out on a big break when Jamel Maxwell fumbled an interception return later in the quarter. The Tigers responded when Ward broke runs of 24 and 11 yards to the UAPB 15 and German threaded a 13-yard pass to Devin Wilson for the score.
Coleman maintained that the ground caused Maxwell’s fumble.
Anderson then threw his second interception of the game to David Van Dyke and Tennessee State took advantage with a 49-yard German-to-A.C. Leonard connection. As if the Lions’ exercise in futility didn’t end there, they drove down to the Tigers 2 on their next possession before losing 13 yards on a bad pitch by T.Q. Mims and turned the ball over on downs.
UAPB linebacker Bill Ross, who finished with 14 tackles, said Tennessee State never wore the Lions’ defense down.
“We were in the game physically,” Ross said. “We weren’t winded. We’re programmed to play games like that. We knew they were going to be the most physical team we played. We knew they were going to be the best team we played. The scoreboard doesn’t show how good we are tonight.”