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Offense comes through in Lions' 34-16 triumph

by I.C. Murrell | September 8, 2021 at 3:06 a.m.
UAPB backup quarterback Xzavier Vaughn tries to hold off Lane College defensive back Nijul Canada on Saturday at Simmons Bank Field. (Special to The Commercial/Darlena Roberts)

Among the 30 new faces on the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff football team, by Coach Doc Gamble's count, offensive playmakers stepped up in Saturday's 34-16 win over Lane College.

Heralded receivers Tyrin Ralph and Josh Wilkes did not play Saturday, and neither did secondary standouts Jalon Thigpen or Solomon Brooks.

"They've got some soft tissue injuries, a tight hamstring and tweaked ankle," Gamble said during the first Southwestern Athletic Conference coaches' teleconference of the season. "If they needed to play, they could have. I left it up to them. They hadn't practiced in a week."

All four will have a little more rest time during UAPB's open week. The Golden Lions (1-0) will next face the University of Central Arkansas in Conway at 6 p.m. Sept. 18.

"This week, it's going to be a forced rest week for them before we look forward to playing UCA," Gamble said. "We look forward to having all our guys rested and ready to play."

The absence of Ralph and Wilkes gave Gamble a peek at his depth on the perimeter. Three freshmen receivers -- Trey Harrell (four catches, 60 yards) and Daemon Dawkins (three catches, 38 yards) -- and freshman running back Kayvon Britten (two catches, 32 yards) combined for almost 69% of Skyler Perry's 189 passing yards.

Gamble also got the production he was hoping for from a number of new running backs, including Britten (seven carries, 59 yards and a touchdown) and UCA transfer Kierre Crossley (11 carries, 54 yards and two touchdowns).

Gamble said it's been "a little trying" to get 30 new players acclimated into a program coming off a Western Division championship in the SWAC.

"It's my yelling and getting on them about every single detail," Gamble said. "When they think they're really playing, they're not going at the standard we set. And it's still some adjustments going on. I always tell them, follow the guys who've been here. We've got some good leadership going on."

UAPB led Lane 24-3 after a Zack Piwniczka field goal with 3:01 left before halftime, but the Dragons (0-1) scored two touchdowns in the final 77 seconds to pull within 24-16, leaving Gamble vexed.

"Our guys got comfortable too soon," he said. "[Lane] played really good defense, and we kept them around a little bit. That's the thing that bothered me; we don't want to keep anybody around, and we kept them around not a little bit, a whole lot. There's a certain way we've got to play. We've got to execute at a high level in all phases of the game."

First look at UCA

UAPB will play UCA for the first time since 2008, when the Bears won 41-17. UCA leads the all-time series 10-2, with UAPB's victories coming in the first two meetings, 1970 (16-3) and 1971 (13-10).

On Saturday UCA had a 7-6 lead on Arkansas State University at halftime, before a quarterback change helped spur the Red Wolves to a 40-21 victory. The Bears' defense allowed 511 total yards, but receivers Lujuan Winningham, Tyler Hudson and Chris Richmond combined for 381 all-purpose yards and accounted for all three Bears touchdowns.

"They're very good," Gamble said of the Bears. "They've got a talented quarterback (Breylin Smith), who's a tremendous arm talent. They have talented wide receivers who can go play anywhere. They're very good on defense and in special teams. They'll hit you. It's a big-time game, and it'll be a big-time deal. That'll be their first home game, so it'll be a good one."

UCA visits Missouri State University in Springfield for a 7 p.m. kickoff this Saturday.

National recognition

Alabama A&M University Coach Connell Maynor made a pitch for UAPB and Jackson State University to be ranked in the STATS Perform FCS Top 25 poll.

UAPB debuted in the poll at No. 24 on April 19, almost two weeks before its SWAC title game loss to Maynor's Bulldogs, but did not get a vote in this week's rankings.

Alabama A&M had 34 voting points, which would be good for 32nd. Jackson State had 14 voting points, good for 35th.

Murray State University earned the most voting points outside of the top 25 following a 35-0 victory against Mississippi Valley State University last Thursday.

UCA slid five spots down to No. 19 following the loss to Arkansas State.

Defending national champion Sam Houston State University is ranked No. 1.

BOXTOROW rankings

The Golden Lions moved up to No. 2 in both BOXTOROW's HBCU Championship Subdivision Coaches and Media polls.

UAPB was previously ranked fifth in the coaches' poll and fourth in the media poll, which includes historically Black college teams across all divisions.

The entire coaches poll, from Nos. 1-10: Alabama A&M (16 first-place votes, 1-0 record), UAPB (one first-place vote, 1-0), Jackson State (1-0), North Carolina A&T State University (0-1), North Carolina Central University (1-0), Florida A&M University (0-1), South Carolina State University (0-1), Prairie View A&M University (1-0), Southern University (0-1) and Grambling State University (1-0).

The media poll, from Nos. 1-10: Alabama A&M (14 first-place votes), UAPB, Jackson State, North Carolina A&T, Prairie View, South Carolina State, Florida A&M, N.C. Central, Grambling State and Southern.

BOXTOROW is an acronym for the national radio show "From the Press Box to Press Row."

Prime vs. Heisman

Jackson State's Deion "Coach Prime" Sanders will coach in his first Southern Heritage Classic on Saturday in Memphis against another team coached by an NFL great -- Eddie George-led Tennessee State University.

George won the 1995 Heisman Trophy as a running back for Ohio State University and rushed for 10,441 yards in a nine-year career with the Tennessee Titans (1996-2003) and Dallas Cowboys (2004). Both he and Sanders worked the sidelines on Sunday: Sanders' Tigers beat Florida A&M 7-6 in Miami Gardens, Fla., and Tennessee State lost 16-10 to Grambling State in Canton, Ohio, in George's coaching debut.

Said Sanders of George's team: "They're going to take on his personality. He was tough, he was fast, he was big and he was strong."

Pine Bluff watch

Former UAPB quarterback Shannon Patrick completed 15 of 22 passes for 215 yards and two touchdowns with an interception for Bethune-Cookman University in a 38-28 loss to the University of Texas at El Paso. Patrick, a redshirt senior from West Palm Beach, Fla., transferred from UAPB following the 2019 season.

Pine Bluff High School graduate Ladarius Skelton completed 7 of 11 passes for 85 yards with two interceptions for Southern in a 55-3 loss to Troy University. Skelton won two state championships with the Zebras (2014-15).

CORRECTION: UCA leads the all-time series with UAPB 10-2. A previous version of this story indicated the incorrect amount of victories for UCA.

Print Headline: Offense comes through in Lions' 34-16 triumph

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