Despite not putting forth the kind of season it hoped it would, the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff football team has a chance to end things on a positive note today against a team that threw the Southwestern Athletic Conference West division a curve last week.
UAPB (1-9, 0-7) will lock up with Texas Southern (3-7, 2-5) in both teams' regular-season finale at 2 p.m. at Shell Energy Stadium in Houston. The teams have split their past 16 meetings, but the Tigers have won the past two encounters, including their 59-17 rout when they last played in Houston during the 2021 season. But both programs have struggled for the majority of 2023 for various reasons, which resulted in each being put out of any kind of title contention fairly early in the year.
However, Texas Southern put a huge stain on another team's championship aspirations a week ago when it whipped Alcorn State 44-10. The Braves, who went into the contest with a one-game lead in the division standings, could've wrapped up at least a share of the SWAC West crown with a win and won it outright today by either beating Jackson State or having Alabama State knock off Prairie View A&M.
Instead, Prairie View A&M, which is now tied for first place with Alcorn State, is in position to take the division with a win because the Panthers won the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Braves by virtue of their 23-30 victory on Sept. 23.
UAPB Coach Alonzo Hampton said his team understands just how good the Tigers are regardless of their record.
"I'll be honest, Texas Southern may be the best team we've played all year," he explained. "Athletically, the quarterback is good, and the running back, I think, is the all-time leading rusher in Texas Southern history. The receivers are really good, they run routes angry, they attack the football angry, they block on the edge.
"It's a really, really good football team. I don't know how they only have two or three wins. We all know that Alcorn is a really good football team, and we just saw what they did to them."
Texas Southern had lost three straight games before dismantling the now-SWAC West co-leaders. In that 34-point thrashing, Jace Wilson threw for 288 yards and a touchdown while LaDarius Owens ran for 211 yards and scored three times. Trenton Leary also caught six passes for 137 yards in the win.
That trio is a big reason why the Tigers own the conference's second-ranked offense, with Owens leading the SWAC in rushing at 122.6 yards on average. The senior has carried 177 times for 1,226 yards and 8 touchdowns on the year.
"He's an extremely talented young player who's been around since my first recruiting class," Texas Southern Coach Clarence McKinney said of Owens. "He's put our team on his back, and we've ridden him all year. He's just a great person, extremely coachable and does everything that [coaches] ask him to do. He wants to do more. ... he's just been a big asset to the program."
Defensively, Texas Southern hasn't been as dynamic, and ordinarily, that'd be a good thing for UAPB. But those 10 points it allowed against Alcorn State are all it's given up over its last six quarters. Plus, the Tigers have two of the top 10 tacklers in the SWAC in Jacob Williams and Isaiah Bogerty.
The Golden Lions can make it easier on themselves if they're able to find consistency on offense. UAPB scored on the game's opening possession last week against Grambling State but went its next 11 series without getting any points. The quarterback situation was still a bit shaky, with Chancellor Edwards and Mekhi Hagens both throwing interceptions. Yet, Johnny Williams had another productive outing at running back after finishing with 99 yards rushing with a touchdown.