HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Ben Anderson threw for his third 300-yard game and surpassed 3,000 yards of total offense this season.
For the second straight week, the Arkansas-Pine Bluff quarterback totaled more than 400 yards of offense, and he had the Golden Lions in position to win their third straight game.
Then, he threw two interceptions in the final minutes. And once again, UAPB fell in the clutch.
“Just trying to do too much instead of letting the game come to me,” Anderson said.
The thing is, he did plenty, as has been the case all season.
The picks spoiled a stellar day for Anderson as Alabama A&M escaped with a 50-42 victory before 7,783 at Louis Crews Stadium on Saturday. It’s the third straight year the Bulldogs (4-7, 4-5 SWAC) have gotten the best of the Lions (2-8, 2-6), each time by one possession.
“It felt real bitter because we thought we were the better team — actually, we knew we were the better team,” said UAPB senior receiver Dezmond Beverly, whose nine catches for 174 yards Saturday are season highs. “We dropped the ball and they came out and beat us.”
Anderson, who accounted for 472 total yards (including 192 rushing) and five touchdowns last Saturday against Grambling State, continued to make a strong case for SWAC Offensive Player of the Year honors. The reigning conference Co-Offensive Player of the Week, Anderson rushed 14 times for 88 yards and two scores and completed 21 of 35 passes for 330 yards and three TDs against A&M, starting out 12-of-13.
The redshirt junior, who went into Saturday ranked sixth in rushing yards in the SWAC, has 2,561 passing and 768 rushing yards on the season.
“We had some unfortunate stuff happen this season, lost a lot of leaders,” Anderson said. “And you know what? It shows. You can’t hide it, you can’t lie, week in and week out. Personally, I just do my part as a leader. That’s all I can do.”
The player ranked just ahead of him on the rushing chart had an even bigger day on the ground. A&M graduate student Barrington Scott carried the ball 33 times for 201 yards and three touchdowns. That put him at 1,007 yards for the year.
Blowing big leads and failing to win in the clutch were common themes for the Lions earlier in the season, and after two straight victories it seemed the team might have gotten over those issues. But Saturday, UAPB let a 21-7 lead get away with 20 unanswered A&M points, reminiscient of the Bulldogs’ comeback from 27-7 down to a 28-27 win against the Lions in the same venue two years ago.
“I knew it had the possibility of being a close game just because of history,” Anderson said. “It makes me sick because it happened again, but it goes to show it’s a 60-minute game.”
A&M scored on a touchdown pass, field goal, safety (a bad snap sailed out of the end zone) and touchdown run by Scott within a 9-minute span going into the third quarter.
Said coach Monte Coleman: “For whatever reason, we let them hang around and they made plays. … It wasn’t Ben, or the offense or the defense. It was an overall loss by the team.”
UAPB, however, fought back and built a 42-34 edge going into the fourth quarter. Its last score was even set up by defensive back Brandon Minor’s 28-yard interception return to the A&M 42.
A&M started its last surge with 11:39 left, getting a field goal from Cesar Ramon to pull within five points. The next drive, Anderson was sacked on third down and UAPB was forced to punt.
Then, A&M’s Demario Ross made a 45-yard circus catch on his back to start a four-play, 69-yard go-ahead series. Scott rushed from 3 yards out with 6:57 left to give the Bulldogs a 43-42 lead, but the two-point conversion pass out of A&M’s Swinging Gates formation was broken up.
Anderson engineered the ensuing drive to near midfield before strong safety Lawrence Barnett wrestled the ball out of Brandon Kensey’s hands for Anderson’s first pick with 5:09 left. Scott made up the entire insurance drive with 51 yards on seven carries, including a 24-yard run the Lions’ defense admittedly allowed to leave their offense with 1:51 to work with.
Anderson went back to his main target of the day in Beverly and completed a 32-yard pass to the A&M 41. The next play, Anderson underthrew Cody Swain on the slot route, and free safety Derrick Harris was there to seal the game with the pick.
“That first (interception), after my first read, I should have pulled the ball down and ran it,” Anderson said. “I forced some instead of being a veteran and throwing it away. That second one, I put too much air under it. They’re both mental errors that falls on myself.”
Anderson’s first touchdown run of 33 yards came on the game’s opening drive. He sprinted 42 yards on another scoring keeper early in the third quarter to give UAPB back the lead at 28-27 with the extra point.
A&M’s defense held freshman standout Jamie Smith to 17 yards on eight carries. For the Bulldogs, Montaurius Smith caught seven passes for 114 yards.