Stage is Set For Judgment Day 2012
Arkansas-Pine Bluff will be playing for a place in history as well as its first conference title Saturday when the Golden Lions face Jackson State in the SWAC Championship Game at Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala.
The Golden Lions (9-2, 8-1 SWAC), champions of the West Division, will register the first 10-win season in school history with a victory.
“That’s definitely a carrot that’s in our sights,’’ UAPB coach Monte Coleman says.
The Golden Lions won nine games in 1994 while playing as an NAIA independent and again in 2006 when they made their first appearance in the SWAC Championship game and lost to Alabama A&M. They also had a nine-win season in 1990, but the NAIA forced the Golden Lions to forfeit those victories because of rules violation that resulted in the football program receiving the death penalty.
In order for UAPB to surpass those squads’ achievement, they will have to defeat Jackson State (7-4, 7-2 SWAC) for the second time this season. They registered a home victory against the Tigers Oct. 6, and Coleman acknowledges that coming away with two wins against any team in the same season is a gargantuan challenge let alone trying to do it against a team the caliber of Jackson State.
Even though UAPB defeated Jackson State 34-24 , Jackson State dominated the game with 420 yards total offense, including 319 rushing. Running backs Tommy Gooden (104) and Rakeem Sims (101) and quarterback Clayton Moore (100) each rushed for at least 100 yards.
.”Jackson State had a lot of success against us,’’ Coleman says. “They beat us in almost every statistical category. They’re familiar with everything we do offensively and defensively. It is hard to beat a team twice in one year. We have to play the defense that’s called. A lot of time we wildcatted. We have to make sure we’re sound, play and don’t try to do anything out of the ordinary and take care of our responsibilities first as a defensive player then help our teammate. By no means is that going to shut down them completely. They’re going to make plays. We realize that. But hopefully that will minimize some of the plays they made in the first game.’’
UAPB scored 21 points in the second period to break open the first meeting with Jackson State.
“They came out with a good design and just beat us,’’ Jackson State coach Rick Comegy says. They took advantage of any mistakes we made and put points on the board. We just have to be a better football team. I don’t know if we were a good football team that day. They beat us outright. They were a better team that day,
That loss left Jackson State on the brink of elimination from the East Division race with a 2-4 record that included a conference loss two weeks earlier to Southern, which had been winless.
“We were down, ‘’ Comegy says. “We were wondering what was wrong. We thought we had a pretty good football team, but things weren’t going our way. The lost to Southern had us thinking, ‘Who are we.’ We rolled our sleeves up and went back to the basics.’’
The Tigers regrouped and finished the season by winning their final five games and tied Alabama State for first place in the East. They claimed the championship on the strength of their 37-34 victory against the Hornets. The Tigers’ win streak coincided with their decision to have a more balanced offense by running the ball more.
“We closed the door on that first chapter (of the season) and started a new chapter,’’ Comegy. “I always thought we had backs who could run. But sometime when you’re coming of a season and you had a great quarterback like we had in (All-American) Casey (Therriault, the 2011 Black College Football Offensive Player of the Year), you want to repeat that scenario. You can’t do that Casey has had his day. We have to go with what we do best. We can throw. But yet and still we had a couple of guys who run the ball but we weren’t using them that much. It turned out our running game wasn’t that bad.’’
Jackson State ended the season No. 3 in the conference in rushing offense, averaging 186.7 yards a game. Three Tigers were among the top10 rushers. Sims was No. 5 with 714 yards; Moore was No. 8 with 564, and Gooden was No. 7 with 548. The Tigers also averaged 219.8 passing yards a game, third-best in the conference.
Senior wide receiver Rico Richardson, the 2012 SWAC Offensive Player of the Year, is the big-play weapon in Jackson State’s offense. Richardson caught 56 passes for 1,081 yards and 10 touchdowns. Richardson’s 19.3 yards per catch average was second-best among receiver in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) with at least 50 receptions.
“Every play you have to understand and realize that he has very good running ability,’’ Coleman says. “We have to make sure we take care of our business when he’s in the game.’’
Arkansas-Pine Bluff’s defense was in the top three in the conference in fewest rushing yards allowed per game (141.2), fewest total yards allowed per game (307.7), fewest passing yards allowed per game (166.5) and fewest points allowed per game (18.3). Senior defensive end Brandon Thurmond is the Golden Lions’ leader. Thurmond, the 2012 SWAC Defensive Player of the Year, led the FCS with 15.5 sacks.
Jackson State held Thurmond to just one sack in the teams’ regular season game.
“Brandon Thurmond is an outstanding football player,’’ Comegy says. “He knows how to get to the quarterback. He has that knack. He’s a guy you have to reckon with. We have to get around the heat he brings. He’s a guy you have to look to double team and put some people on because he can really bring it.’’
Like Jackson State, UAPB boasts a balanced offense. With All-SWAC quarterback at the controls, the Golden Lions led the conference with 204.7 rushing yards a game and they threw for 196.7. Running back Justin Billings is the big gun in the ground game. Billings rushed for 768 yards while averaging 6.0 yards a carry. Dennis Jenkins, his backup, rushed for 539 yards.
Penalties on both sides of the ball were a major problem for UAPB all season. They were the third-most penalized team in the conference, having been flagged 116 times and losing an average of 90.4 yards a game because of penalties. They were guilty of 17 penalties that cost 172 yards – both conference highs – in their victory against Alabama State, and they were penalized nine times for 83 in their season finale against Prairie View A&M. However, they were only penalized four times for 25 yards in their victory against Jackson State, and Coleman hopes for a repeat of that performance.“We’re still getting way too many penalties,’’ Coleman says. “Only by the grace of God have we been able to be hit with the number of penalties that we have had and still come out with a victory. Penalties are a major concern. We have to play an almost perfect game to beat Jackson state, and penalties would be a negative for us.’’