PINE BLUFF -- There was nothing fancy about Grambling State's performance Saturday afternoon against the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, but defensive lineman Wesley Green made sure the Tigers got what they needed to walk off Simmons Bank Field with a victory.
The redshirt sophomore came up with a deflected interception at the Tigers' 10 with less than a minute left to play as Grambling State survived to beat UAPB 39-33 in front of a rain-dampened crowd of 4,136.
Sophomore quarterback Geremy Hickbottom threw for 248 yards and accounted for 3 touchdowns, including a 40-yard pass to Kevin Dominique late in the third quarter that put the Tigers on top for good and kept them in the thick of the Southwestern Athletic Conference's Western Division.
After starting the year with four consecutive losses, Grambling State (3-4, 1-2 SWAC) has won three games in a row and pushed its winning streak to six games over UAPB. The Golden Lions, however, missed on a prime opportunity to pick up a signature conference victory.
UAPB (5-3, 2-2) turned the ball over three times and trailed by as much as 13 points with less than five minutes left in the game. Yet, the Golden Lions found themselves in a good spot after quarterback Shannon Patrick threw a 24-yard touchdown pass to Harry Ballard with 4:03 remaining to get UAPB within 39-33.
The Golden Lions then got a huge break when defensive back Jordan Brown intercepted a Hickbottom pass and returned it 19 yards to the Tigers' 11 with 3:11 remaining. UAPB gained 5 yards over the ensuing three plays before Green came up with his game-sealing interception.
"It kind of fell in our hands," Grambling State Coach Broderick Fobbs said of the interception. "We were fortunate because I thought we were outplayed, if you look at the stats, in pretty much every category. But it's about turnovers.
"Even though we turned it over, too, I think [UAPB's] turnovers hurt them a lot worse than ours."
The Tigers scored 14 points off three Golden Lions turnovers and recorded a safety. Grambling State also scored after a shanked 9-yard punt in the second quarter. But UAPB Coach Cedric Thomas didn't necessarily harp on his teams' mistakes. Conversely, he was pleased with how they overcame adversity, particularly after facing a 13-point deficit late.
"We played our tails off," he said. "You talk about being down two scores with five minutes left. ... My kids were clawing and scratching, and I couldn't ask for anything more. It's going to come a time when our sideline is going to look like their sidelines when it comes to championships.
"But the universe hasn't lined up yet for us to beat those teams like Grambling just yet."
The Golden Lions, who would've moved into a first-place tie with Southern atop the division standings with a victory, did have their moments. Grambling State came in leading the SWAC in rushing at nearly 231 yards per game but was held to just 44 yards. UAPB forced a pair of turnovers and spent a large portion of the game harassing Hickbottom.
Still, the Golden Lions weren't able to take advantage when they had to in the fourth quarter.
Patrick finished 22 of 35 for 300 yards with 4 touchdowns while Ballard caught 9 passes for 153 yards and 2 scores for UAPB, which also missed out on a scoop-and-score chance early in the final quarter after forcing a fumble. With 9:59 to go in the fourth, Hickbottom fumbled inside the Tigers' 5, and while the ball rolled on the ground, a Golden Lions defender had a chance to grab it with open field in front of him. Instead, he celebrated the sack while a Grambling State lineman fell on the loose ball.
Grambling State led 22-19 at halftime.
The teams exchanged touchdowns on their opening possessions of the third quarter, with UAPB chewing up almost seven minutes during a 15-play, 69-yard march. Patrick's 5-yarder to Ballard put the Golden Lions back out front 26-22, but Hickbottom replied with his touchdown toss to Dominique for the Tigers.
Miguel Mendez's 34-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter increased Grambling State's cushion to 32-26, and Joseph McWilliams' 55-yard interception return for a touchdown with 7:57 showing made it 39-26 prior to the Golden Lions' rally.
"It was a tough loss, no doubt, but I can't wait so see their faces Monday around four o'clock," Thomas said in reference to when his team begins preparation for next week's game at Jackson State. "That's how you judge the character of these young men. If I sit around in my self-pity because we lost a football game, then they're going to be a direct reflection of me.
"We'll meet Monday and get ready to do it one more time. That's the foundation of a team when you talk about having a championship mentality."
Sports on 10/27/2019
Print Headline: Defensive lineman picks off UAPB late