Monte Coleman paused for a minute and realized he and his Arkansas-Pine Bluff football team already are heading into their fifth game of the season.
That amazed him more than the fact that Tennessee State is the No. 1 black college football team in the country. In fact, he and Tennessee State coach Rod Reed share the same feeling about the rankings.
The feeling is, the prestige of being involved in a game of two Sheridan Broadcasting Network top-10 teams — UAPB is ranked No. 7 — is not all that important. But UAPB’s spot in the poll is as rare as Tennessee State leading it.
“It’s the next game on the schedule and I’m being honest with you,” Coleman said. “With all the fringe benefits that comes along, that’s great. I think our team deserves it. Our guys deserve it. They’ve worked hard for several years. It didn’t just start this year. It started years ago, building that foundation.”
Said Reed: “I don’t really put a lot of stock in that for our football team. For our fans and the media, it’s exciting.”
The poll is important because it determines the black college national champion at the end of the season. It’s not likely anyone could have predicted that either UAPB or Tennessee State would be legitimate contenders for that crown; UAPB was 6-5 last year and Tennessee State was 5-6.
Plus, if UAPB wins, it makes a strong case for being No. 1 despite having one loss.
“It’s a big game, winner-take-all,” Golden Lions receiver Dezmond Beverly said. “It’s not a conference game, but it’s a momentum game. We win, we go into the rest of the season with sky-high confidence because we know we’re playing a good team. If we win, everybody’s going to be gearing for us and we’re going to be the top dogs.”
Still, nothing carries more immediate importance to Coleman than winning the next football game.
“We want to keep our win streak alive,” Coleman said, his team winners of two straight. “It just so happens Tennessee State are the next guys. The same importance put on this game will be put on the Jackson State game the week after. We want to continue to win. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing, whether it’s number one in the nation or number 101 in the nation.”
Part of Tennessee State’s success can be attributed to its defense. The Tigers are fifth in the Football Championship Subdivision in points allowed per game at 13.5. Sophomore linebacker Nick Thrasher leads the team with 24 solo tackles, while sophomore defensive back Steven Godbolt III has already intercepted three passes on the season.
But Reed said the unit’s success starts up front. Tennessee State has only given up 119 rushing yards per game and will take on a UAPB offense that’s rushed for 200-plus yards in its last two games.
“We’re playing a big-play offense,” Reed said of UAPB. “We have to bring our A-game because this is one of the better teams we’ve played. We’re raring to go, but we have our work cut out.”
The Golden Lions hope their momentum from a 466-total yard effort in a victory at Alabama State nine days ago will carry into Nashville. They also carry with them a stout defense that is sixth nationally in scoring defense at 13.75 and sixth in total defense at 262 yards per game.
Coleman said the defense’s goal will be to stop the Tigers’ rushing game and force them to throw the ball. But Tennessee State has a solid quarterback in sophomore Michael German, who was named Tennessee Sports Writers Association offensive player of the week follwing a 27-for-36, 318-yard game against Austin Peay.
“We’ve played some very good offenses,” Coleman said. “This one ranks right in there.”