By I.C. Murrell
COMMERCIAL SPORTS EDITOR
Dennis Winston has weathered a full season of storylines.
He probably didn’t expect half of those that were written since he left Arkansas-Pine Bluff to become Grambling State’s defensive coordinator under Doug Williams. But he was the subject of another storyline when he returned to Golden Lion Stadium to lead the Tigers in his third game as interim head coach.
“It was a good experience,” said Winston, who spent three years as the Golden Lions’ defensive line coach. “I have a lot of friends on the other side and the young men I recruited. I saw a lot of guys that were on the (2012 SWAC) championship team, and it was just a good ol’ homecoming.
“It could have been better, but that’s how it became.”
Two of UAPB’s offensive standouts, quarterback Ben Anderson and wide receiver Dezmond Beverly, sang Winston’s praises for the job he’s done since replacing George Ragsdale during the week Grambling’s players boycotted a game at Jackson State over poor athletic facility conditions and Williams’ firing. Winston has lost two of three games, but went to overtime in one of the defeats and led Grambling State to its first win last week against Mississippi Valley State.
“I was glad to see them come back the next week (after the Oct. 19 boycott) against Texas Southern and see them play good,” Anderson said. “Even though coach Winston left, I’ve got a good relationship with him. I still favor coach Winston. … Coach Winston obviously has them playing a lot better than they were at the beginning of the season.”
Said Beverly: “Coach Winston was a big mentor for us, and to see him get a win, that was great to see.”
Winston previewed this game earlier in the week as a physical battle “a lot of people need to come out and see.” Instead, it was a struggle for the defenses in front of 5,787 people. UAPB outgained Grambling 594-428 in total yards. Quarterbacks accounted for a majority of those yards. Anderson had 472 total yards to his name, while Grambling’s Jonathan Williams registered 359.
“In a game like this, it’s who’s got the ball last,” Winston said. “The quarterbacks on both teams are good quarterbacks, mobile and can do a lot of things. Running quarterbacks bring a different dimension to a ballgame.”
Missed conversion attempts would doom Grambling State in a three-point loss.
Freshman Johnathan Wallace missed an extra point wide left late in the first quarter, leaving the Tigers with a 13-7 lead. Wallace also had two extra points blocked, one after Jeremy Runner’s 14-yard scoring run in the second quarter as the Tigers pulled within 21-19 and another after Dwight Amphy returned his field-goal block 85 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter, leaving Grambling’s lead at 31-24.
Johnathan Williams threw an incomplete pass on a two-point conversion attempt late in the second quarter after Grambling took a 25-21 lead.
“I’ve got to take my hat off to the special teams,” UAPB coach Monte Coleman said. “That’s huge. The whole concept of what we have to do changes with those blocked extra points.”
Senior Day notes
Ladarius Eckwood and Jer-ryan Harris were among UAPB seniors making their final starts at Golden Lion Stadium on Saturday, but neither recorded stats.
Eckwood, a wide receiver, was still bothered by a foot injury that sidelined him for the Mississippi Valley State game on Oct. 26, Coleman said. Harris, who was third in the nation with 12.1 tackles per game — 0.2 behind the leader — did not record a tackle for the first time this season.
Senior T.Q. Mims, who was thought to be lost for the season with a knee injury while celebrating an interception against Alcorn State in September, dressed out for Saturday’s game, but did not play.
The game ball goes to …
Anderson for his 472 total yards and five touchdowns (four passing, one rushing). His 192 rushing yards is a career high.
JSU clinches East
The Dec. 7 SWAC championship game is now set.
Jackson State defeated Alabama A&M 26-20 Saturday in Huntsville, Ala., to win the Eastern Division and advance to its second straight SWAC title game. Jackson State lost 24-21 to UAPB in overtime last December in the final.
Southern earned its berth on Thursday after Alcorn State’s 50-35 win over Prairie View A&M assured the Jaguars of the Western Division title.
Next for the Lions …
UAPB will hit the road for its final two games, starting with a visit to Alabama A&M next Saturday. Kickoff in Huntsville is set for 1 p.m.