ITTA BENA, Miss. — Xavier Lofton did his part in keeping Arkansas-Pine Bluff on top, once and for all.
Two plays after Mississippi Valley State free safety Kevin Eugene returned an interception to UAPB’s 33, the Golden Lions’ defense forced a fumble while sacking Patrick Ivy. Lofton emerged from his weak-side linebacker position to scoop up the loose ball and go 55 yards untouched for a touchdown.
With that, UAPB took momentum away from Valley and rolled to its first victory of the season, 38-18, Saturday before a homecoming crowd of 8,632 at Rice-Totten Stadium.
Finally, the Lions (1-7, 1-5 SWAC) can exhale. They built a lead and held onto it. They avoided their eighth straight defeat, which would have been their longest skid since dropping 17 in a row through the 1986 season. They finally got the proverbial monkey off their backs.
“And it feels great,” UAPB coach Monte Coleman said. “We knew coming in, (Valley) had a lot to play for, being that it was homecoming. So, we’re just happy we’re able to walk out of here with our first victory, and it feels great.”
And their upcoming bye week, the second of the year for UAPB, won’t seem so long.
“We finally got a win,” UAPB junior quarterback Ben Anderson said. “We feel good, we can relax, smile. It was a good game by the defense, (and) a good game by the offense.”
Anderson had one of his finest games at UAPB, rushing for 123 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries and throwing for 269 yards and two scores on 20-of-30 passing. “He was the (preseason) conference MVP for a reason,” Valley coach Karl Morgan said. “We didn’t stop him running the ball or throwing the ball. He played real well, and we didn’t play real well.”
Both touchdown passes went to Cody Swain, who had a career-high 153 yards on six receptions, including 86 on a slant early in the fourth quarter. Swain also had a 20-yard TD catch to open the scoring.
“Those are the things we see out of Cody in practice,” Coleman said. “We know he can do it for us.”
Lofton and the defense played a huge part in the effort, allowing a season-low 57 yards rushing and picking off Ivy twice. The quarterback threw for 233 yards and three touchdowns, but he completed only 13 of 33 passes.
Ivy played nearly the entire way, a week after he was hobbled by a hamstring injury against Prairie View A&M.
“He’s still a work in progress, but he did some good things,” Morgan said.
Through one half, it seemed this latest installment of a Delta rivalry would be no runaway, as has been the case in the previous two meetings. But UAPB kept pressing on the gas pedal to start the second half thanks to Anderson’s ground game.
He rushed for 57 of the Lions’ 70 yards on the opening drive of the half, capped by his 4-yard carry to make it 24-6.
The Delta Devils (1-7, 1-5) pulled within 24-12 on the next drive, as Ivy struck a 64-yard pass to Kenneth Dabney, but they wouldn’t come any closer. The Lions took off the ensuing 5 minutes, 42 seconds, on a 12-play, 81-yard series in which a 16-yard Dezmond Beverly reception set up Anderson’s 2-yard TD sneak.
It wasn’t all pretty for the Lions. Anderson tossed interceptions to cornerback Avery Boykin — his fifth of the season — and defensive tackle James Atkinson. UAPB wide receiver Brandon Kensey tossed the pick to Eugene on a reverse, adding to the Delta Devils’ momentum they gained on a 44-yard Richard Drake reception from an Ivy pass on the run just 2 minutes earlier. The Lions also were flagged 17 times for 135 yards. But the Devils had it bad too, penalized 14 times for 93 yards.
“That can’t happen against just any team,” Anderson said.
UAPB built a 10-0 lead before Valley pulled within four on Drake’s catch.
But Ivy went down on second-and-10, and Lofton’s return gave the Lions control.
Beverly caught six passes for 51 yards, and Jeremiah Young rushed 11 times for 67 yards for UAPB. Julian Stafford (seven receptions) and Dabney (three) each had 89 receiving yards for Valley.
“I thought we played consistent for the most part,” Coleman said. “We finally did what we kept talking about. We started fast, and we finished. We were able to win the football game.”