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At 1-1, UAPB foe still mystery

by I.C. Murrell | April 3, 2021 at 2:50 a.m.
Student managers carry track starting blocks after practice on the track at Rice-Totten Stadium at Mississippi Valley State University in Itta Bena, Miss., in this Nov. 3, 2010, file photo. (AP/Rogelio V. Solis)

Rivalry Saturday in Itta Bena, Miss., will provide the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff football team what its first home game last Saturday couldn't -- sunshine.

Fewer clouds on the other side of the Mississippi Delta are forecast for today's game at Mississippi Valley State University than in last week's thunderous weather system that brought UAPB's game against Alabama State at Simmons Bank Field to an early halt. The sun will peek out at Valley's Rice-Totten Stadium with a high of 69 degrees.

Kickoff for the Golden Lions' final road game of the spring season is set for 3:05 p.m. Live video of the game will be available on ESPN3.com and the ESPN app, with a radio broadcast beginning its broadcast at 2:30 p.m. on KPBA-FM 99.3 and the UAPB athletics app.

The Lions are still 2-0 overall and in the Southwestern Athletic Conference after the Alabama State game, which stopped with 6:12 left before halftime and the Hornets leading 10-3, was declared no-contest due to continuous thunderstorms.

The Delta Devils (1-1 overall and SWAC), who have a forfeit victory against Alcorn State to their credit, have not played since losing their season opener to Jackson State 43-7 on March 14.

Valley paused football activities two days before it was originally scheduled to take on Jackson State in February. A March 6 game against Alabama A&M was rescheduled to April 24 due to covid-19 protocols.

That doesn't leave UAPB Coach Doc Gamble with much game video on Valley to break down.

"From this year's version, it's not a ton," Gamble said. "They've been off for the last three weeks. They played Jackson State, and that's the only video we can go off of. We can't go back to 2019 or 2018 because every year's different."

Gamble thinks Rice-Totten is one of the toughest places to play on the road in the SWAC. The stadium is named after Pro Football Hall of Famer Jerry Rice and his quarterback at Valley, former head coach and current offensive coordinator Willie Totten.

"They play on a grass surface, and we play on turf," Gamble said. "It can be slow, the surface can, but they practice on it all the time."

ABOUT VALLEY

The Golden Lions have a closer rival than Valley (148 miles from the UAPB campus), and that's Grambling State (145 miles). But there may not be a closer all-time series (minimum 10 games) in football for UAPB than with Valley, as the Golden Lions hold a 26-24-1 advantage.

The Lions won the last meeting with the Devils, 38-6, in Pine Bluff on Oct. 12, 2019, but that was after the Devils won three straight meetings to break a seven-year UAPB stranglehold (2009-15) on the rivalry. Valley had won 13 of 14 meetings between 1972 and 1988 -- the 1981 game ended in a 23-23 tie -- and UAPB won 10 straight contests between 1995-2004.

Valley has scored just once this season, when quarterback Jalani Eason ran 11 yards for a touchdown against Jackson State. Eason, who transferred from Portland (Ore.) State, completed 17 of 34 passes for 117 yards.

"They threw the ball around a little against Jackson State," Gamble said. "I believe they can run the ball as well and establish the run. The head coach [Vincent Dancy] is a defensive guy with a defensive background."

Defensive lineman Jerry Garner leads the Devils' defense with four tackles (one for loss) and a sack.

LIONS' YOUNG GUNS

Gamble sets a goal for the Lions to score on every possession. UAPB has brought the points this season (40.5 per game), thanks in large part to quarterback Skyler Perry. The junior from New Orleans has thrown for 569 yards and six touchdowns (not counting statistics from the Alabama State game).

Perry has plenty of targets to rely on, including tight end Jeremy Brown and wideouts Josh Wilkes and Harry Ballard III. Perry leads the charge on the ground as well, although Watson Chapel High School alumnus Omar Allen II and Mattias Clark get the majority of the carries.

"It allows you to put constant pressure on people," Gamble said of his balanced offense. "If you take away the quarterback, the running backs can get the game going. You can have all the great runners that you want, but it all starts up front. It all works hand-in-hand with one another. To have great runners, you have to be able to block on the outside as well. We've got some guys with some legs, but we've got guys with lots of intelligence as well."

The first quarter hasn't been UAPB's strong suit this spring, although the Lions outscored Grambling and Southern 10-7 in that period.

"It's a missed read here and missed assignment there that's keeping us from scoring the points we think we should be scoring early on," Gamble said.

Still, the potential is high for the Lions' offense, a unit coached by four men with offensive coordinator experience.

"I think we're continuing to learn in a positive way what our players are able to do, and we'll continue to utilize them to the best of our ability within what Coach Gamble would like us to have done," first-year Lions offensive coordinator Don Treadwell said.

Defensively, UAPB is astute at forcing turnovers (four interceptions and two fumble recoveries this season) and sacking quarterbacks (five this season), as well as pinning their opponents deep in their territory to start a drive.

LAST 3-0 START?

UAPB has won its first two football games for the first time since the 2000 season, the fourth year the team competed in the SWAC (and in NCAA Division I).

A win today would secure the Golden Lions' second straight winning regular season. They went 6-5 in 2019.

Tickets at Valley range from $15 for children ages 5-17 to $20 for general admission to $30 for reserved seats.

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