Arkansas-Pine Bluff has not had a football season start this way in five years. The Golden Lions are a loss away from their longest losing streak in 27 years.
And quarterback Ben Anderson feels the frustration.
“You just get burned out,” he said Saturday after a 29-21 loss to Southern. “You get tired of the same (result) every Saturday, but you try to even it out by saying, you’re not playing with everybody, but you can only say it so many times.”
It’s been seven games that UAPB has played without the entire group it began preseason camp with, but the Lions have yet to turn the corner with the players they have. From the start of the season, they’ve faced adversity in playing without five returnees now declared ineligible for the season and others just hoping to be cleared before the season finale Nov. 23 at Prairie View A&M.
“We’re going to take it one game at a time,” said senior linebacker Jer-ryan Harris, the Football Championship Subdivision’s leading tackler who had a game-high 14 stops Saturday. “We’re going to step out on pride and persevere.”
Yet, UAPB has come close in each of its last five games, all SWAC contests. The Southern game was no different.
Sixth-year receiver Thomas Winters, who made his second appearance of the season Saturday, and Harris point to “the little things” that the Golden Lions aren’t doing on the field that could add up to victory. For example, coach Monte Coleman cited missed tackles that led to big plays.
“It’s no change in the game plan,” Harris said.
So, how can the Lions address the little things?
“It takes extra effort, that extra day of film, that extra hour of practice,” Harris said.
UAPB is left with taking little positives out of a defeat — again. One positive was denying Southern a score after the Jaguars marched 46 yards on 15 plays for 8 minutes, 26 seconds.
“That was just a good example of bending without breaking,” Harris said. “When we got to that last little third down, we looked at everybody and said this was the ‘money down,’ (and) we need to step up. And everybody actually stepped up.”
Coleman said that drive didn’t wear his players down because he didn’t have to make any substitutions for fatigue.
Winters didn’t want to blame the Lions’ troubles on the fact that younger players have been thrust into the action early in their careers, adding: “A young kid can always be great.”
But in a conference with much parity, it may take greatness for UAPB just to win its remaining games, three of them against teams with sub-.500 winning percentages (Mississippi Valley State, Grambling State and Alabama A&M).
Anderson, a junior, just knows he’s had it with this skid.
“It’s real frustrating,” he said. “You never want to send your seniors out with a losing season, coming off a championship season, expecting to repeat, and then going still winless. It’s embarrassing.”
When the Golden Lions had a timeout to spare at one point, they weren’t granted one. When they didn’t have a timeout, it hurt.
UAPB was trying to drive for a score just before halftime, falling behind 22-14 with 22 seconds left. Anderson completed two passes to Brandon Kensey for 16 yards to the Lions’ 42, and players and coaches for UAPB tried to signal timeout. But the final seconds ticked off without the officials acknowledging timeout.
“I don’t know what happened,” Coleman said. “I don’t know why they didn’t give us the timeout. We had 10 seconds left on the clock and they didn’t give it to us. We had several guys trying to get the timeout.”
UAPB had to take all three of its second-half timeouts on defense in the fourth quarter. Two plays after the first timeout, the Lions burned another to get their defensive punt formation in order. That was with 4:39 left.
UAPB fumbled on its next drive and used its last stoppage with 1:02 left, leaving the Lions with none for the final 14 seconds when they had the ball.
Winters hauls in three
Winters, a graduate student from Cahokia, Ill., played his first full game of the season and had three catches for 65 yards (including a long of 36). He caught only a 7-yard pass on the opening play from scrimmage against Texas Southern last Saturday.
Winters was granted a sixth year after missing much of 2010 and all of 2011 due to a knee injury. He was one of many Lions awaiting clearance from the NCAA before taking the field this season.
“It’s good being back with the boys,” he said. “It’s my second game, but really my first full game. We played hard, but it’s the little things we’re doing. We’re not finishing.”
Anderson called Winters one of the team’s most vocal leaders.
“He’s got the most respect from me because he’s been through so much, and he’s still out here, still fighting, still growing, still out here with us,” Anderson said.
The season has not been nice to UAPB’s Tyler Strickland.
The junior, best known for his game-winning field goals against Langston (Okla.) and Jackson State last season, has converted only 4 of 9 attempts this season. He missed his only try from 35 yards out Saturday, which could have given UAPB a 17-15 lead with 2:36 left before halftime.
Coleman blamed Strickland’s kicking troubles on changes at the holder position.
“We were consistent with the holder last year,” Coleman said. “And this year, we’ve had several holders.”
Southern, meanwhile, lost one of its kickers during warm-ups. Coach Dawson Odums said Matthew Hill strained a hip flexor, leaving Greg Pittman to do the job. Pittman recovered his own blocked extra-point attempt and took it into the end zone for two points and converted his other three tries.
The game ball goes to …
Anderson for completing 24 of 28 passes for 266 yards and two touchdowns, and rushing 19 times for 99 yards and another TD.
Next for the Lions …
UAPB will take its shortest road trip of the season and visit Mississippi Valley State next Saturday. Kickoff in Itta Bena is set for 1 p.m.