The broken record keeps playing.
Arkansas-Pine Bluff plays well enough to have a chance to tie a game in the final minutes, but again misses the opportunity. This time, a fumble in Southern territory with 2:27 remaining left the Golden Lions wondering what might have been.
Southern melted away enough clock before punting, and UAPB didn’t get to take a shot at the end zone as the Jaguars escaped Golden Lion Stadium with a 29-21 victory Saturday before a season-high crowd of 11,059 on homecoming day.
The loss is the Lions’ seventh consecutive to open the season, matching its longest skid since Monte Coleman took over the team in 2008. UAPB went 3-9 that year.
“When it’s going bad, it’s going bad,” Coleman said. “The thing we’ve got to do, we’ve got four games (left). We’re going to continue to take things one game at a time and try to get that first win.”
None of UAPB’s losses in SWAC play have been very decisive. The Lions (0-7, 0-5 SWAC) lost their fourth contest by fewer than 10 points and have averaged a 7.2-point margin of defeat in the league.
Just as in all the other SWAC games, UAPB was within striking distance in the final minutes.
“For the fans that actually watch and pay attention to the game, it’s not been a situation since McNeese (State on Sept. 7) that we’ve been blown out,” UAPB quarterback Ben Anderson said. “We’re fighting every game, we’re giving our best. It’s always that one mistake.”
UAPB forced Southern to punt and started a drive from its own 30 with 4:31 left. Anderson and running back Jamie Smith ran for first downs in the series, the latter giving the Lions first-and-10 at Southern’s 41.
The next play all but sealed the Lions’ fate. Freshman Draylon Willis fumbled the ball forward as defensive back Dionte McDuffy hit him at the 35, and the Jaguars pounced on it at the 25.
“I feel sorry for the young man that fumbled the ball in the end,” Coleman said of the Wynne product, who had 19 yards on three carries. “Big play against us? Absolutely, but one play doesn’t lose a game. He’ll come back and do well for us.”
Southern took 2 minutes, 11 seconds off the clock, leaving UAPB with 14 seconds and no timeouts.
Anderson then completed a 12-yard pass to Dezmond Beverly, whom Southern defenders kept from going out of bounds to run the clock down to zero.
UAPB outgained Southern 440-395 in total yards. Anderson completed 24 of 28 passes for 266 yards and two touchdowns with one interception and came within a rushing yard short of 100 on 19 carries, one of which went for a score.
But once again, an opponent got UAPB where it’s been hurt the most — in rushing defense.
Lenard Tillery ran 32 times for 136 yards, including a 26-yard touchdown run that opened the scoring. Coleman was quick to point out UAPB gave up its fewest rushing yards of the season (163), but big plays ultimately cost the Lions.
“I just think he’s one of our better backs,” Southern coach Dawson Odums said of Tillery. “We haven’t opened up a lot of holes for him. He missed some games earlier in the year, and I said when we got him back, you guys would see why I’m so high on this young man.”
Dray Joseph completed 23 of 30 passes for 231 yards with two touchdowns to pace the Jaguars (4-3, 4-1). They went ahead for good on his 32-yard pass to a wide-open Willie Quinn (four catches, 61 yards) midway through the second quarter and made it 22-14 with 22 seconds left in the half on a 16-yard toss to Nico Talbert.
UAPB might’ve received an early sign of bad things to come when Greg Pittman recovered his own blocked extra point after the opening touchdown and bulled through traffic for the extra two points.
The Lions responded on the next drive as Anderson scored from 8 yards out. They built momentum from there, stopping a Jaguars pass for 1 yard on fourth-and-6 and turning in a 10-play, 77-yard series capped by Anderson’s 21-yard toss to Isiah Ferguson to make it a 14-8 lead.
Southern led by as many as eight points and sought to increase its halftime lead with a 15-play, 46-yard drive of 8 minutes, 26 seconds. Tillery netted 26 yards and two first downs on nine carries during the drive, but on fourth-and-4, the Lions got their big stop when freshman Anthony Johnson sacked Joseph for an 8-yard sack back to the UAPB 31.
The Lions would capitalize eight plays later. Anderson ran a bootleg and connected with Jamie Smith for an 11-yard scoring play to pull UAPB within 22-21.
But Southern managed to control the clock again and march 90 yards in 13 plays. A couple of 5-yard penalties pushed Southern back to the 11, but Tillery earned 10 yards back on a third-down run to set up Joseph’s 1-yard sneak with 8:34 left.
Southern’s Lee Doss, the SWAC’s leading receiver, had a game-high eight catches for 54 yards. For UAPB, Beverly pulled down seven catches for 69 yards, while Brandon Kensey had six for 59.
The win was Southern’s first against UAPB since 2009.