JACKSON, Miss. — Until Arkansas-Pine Bluff finds a way to finish a game, it could be a long season in the SWAC. No matter how many opportunities it finds.
UAPB missed out on another game-winning drive when Ben Anderson was sacked on fourth down with 2:05 left. The drive was set up by a lost Jackson State fumble.
Hoping to make a stop and get the ball back, the Golden Lions could not find a way to contain Tommy Gooden.
With 1 minute left, the senior took a third-and-8 carry up the middle and turned it into a 30-yard touchdown run that put away the Lions in a 42-33 Tiger victory Saturday night, extending UAPB’s losing skid to five games to start the season. The attendance was 9,087, relatively low for a rematch of last December’s conference championship won by UAPB.
Gooden finished with a career-high 214 yards and four touchdowns on 20 carries. He gained 153 yards in the second half.
“I take my hat off to the young man,” UAPB coach Monte Coleman said. “He took advantage of what they were calling. If you go back and look at the film, 140-something yards of that were missed tackles. That’s part of the game. You miss a tackle, they run for 40 yards. Not taking anything away from him, but we’ve got to get better as a defense tackling. We’ve said that from the very beginning.”
Aside from their continued defensive woes, the Lions (0-5, 0-3 SWAC) wrote some familiar storylines at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium.
They could not hold on to their largest lead of the season, building 13-0 and 20-7 advantages against the Tigers (4-2, 4-0). They gave up three scoring plays of 30 or more yards, including a 43-yard burst up the middle by Gooden early in the third quarter. They couldn’t orchestrate a go-ahead march in the final seconds.
And the end result left Anderson — who completed 16-of-33 for 295 yards and two TDs — speechless in deep disappointment at first.
“I don’t know what to tell you,” he said. “(We’re) doing everything we can. It’s a team effort. Not blaming any of my teammates, but going back to the game and thinking about what you did, what you could have done, it’s hard to find one thing.”
The second half was mostly back-and-forth after UAPB went into halftime with a 23-21 lead. The Lions took their last lead, 33-28, with 5:16 left in the third quarter on Anderson’s 7-yard pass to Jamie Smith. But the Tigers went straight to their rushing attack and moved 75 yards in eight plays that took 2:47 off the clock. Gooden capped the drive with a 6-yard tote to put the Tigers back in front.
UAPB was forced to punt on its next two drives, failing to take advantage of a missed 21-yard field goal by Ryan Deising.
Linebacker Kyle Walker forced a Rakeem Sims’ fumble at the Lions’ 22, and Kevin Rucker Jr. pounced on it to give Anderson and the offense another crack at it. Jeremiah Young rushed for a first down and UAPB matriculated to its own 46 before Anderson tossed an incomplete pass and was sacked for a 14-yard loss by Ariane McCree.
Anderson was sacked one other time — on the final play of the game. On fourth-and-10. At the Jackson State 35.
“The O-line did a great job the whole game,” Anderson said. “Right there (on the first sack), I should have had a check-down prepared. I take fault for that. They had been blitzing the whole game, and we had been beating them with an underneath drag (route).”
Tyler Strickland kicked a 51-yard field goal, the longest in UAPB history, at the end of the first half to give the Lions a two-point lead. His 52-yard attempt earlier in the second quarter fell short, two yards of the crossbar.
Strickland converted a 28-yard field goal in the third frame.
The made field goal snapped a Jackson State rally from 20-7 down. Gooden’s 17-yard run with 1:29 left before halftime was ruled a touchdown when it appeared he bobbled the ball out of bounds just before breaking the plane.
Jackson State picked up more momentum on UAPB’s next series, as Canard Brown blocked Dylan Neiheiser’s first punt of the season and returned it to the Golden Lions’ 20. Clayton Moore then fired a pass to Zach Pendleton just into the end zone with 19.6 seconds left, and the extra point gave the Tigers their first lead, 21-20.
But UAPB showed it could score with (very) little time remaining. Anderson connected with Cody Swain for 20 yards and rushed 11 yards to the Jackson State 34 to set up Strickland’s go-ahead kick.
The Lions had to string their longest drive of the season (in yardage) to open the scoring. Anderson completed a 45-yard pass to Swain and rushed for 19 yards the very next play to set up Young’s 10-yard touchdown carry around left end with 6:02 left in the opening frame. That finished off a 96-yard, eight-play march.
UAPB’s Anthony Smith recovered a Gooden fumble at the J-State 14, and two plays later Brandon Kensey hauled in a 14-yard TD pass from Anderson to make it 13-0. Strickland missed the extra point.
The Tigers got on the board when Tobias Singleton made a 37-yard TD catch on the next drive. But Young, who had 78 yards on 15 carries, bulled his way into the end zone from 15 yards out, even dragging a couple of defenders across the goal line, as UAPB answered right back to up the lead to 13 points again.
Swain had 77 yards, Dexter Bryant collected 64 and Kensey totaled 57 yards on three receptions apiece for UAPB. J-State’s Clayton Moore was 7-for-15 for 111 yards and two scores, but was sacked three times.
The Tigers outgained the Lions 477 to 454 in total yards.