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UAPB faces tough test in home opener

by Erick Taylor | September 16, 2023 at 2:15 a.m.

There will be a lot of excitement for fans today for the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff's home opener against Miles College, but there may be a little extra pep in Coach Alonzo Hampton's steps when he jogs onto Simmons Bank Field.

The game will mark Hampton's first in his home stadium since he took over the program in December. So there's a pretty good chance he'll be a bit more amped up than usual by the time the ball is kicked off at 4 p.m.

"Obviously, being a head coach here, you get a chance to run out of the tunnel here at home," Hampton said. "That's exciting man. When they brought me back here, I'd visualized this day. So now it's here, and I'm excited about it.

"I've just got to remember to stay calm, make sure my shoes are tied up and don't trip over them when I'm running down the sideline."

Hampton spent five seasons on UAPB's staff from 2006-10 before leaving the following year for Western Kentucky. But the Golden Lions will be trying to make his first game back on the team's home field more successful than his last.

The last time he coached in an actual contest in Pine Bluff was on Nov. 13, 2010, when UAPB suffered a 52-30 loss to Jackson State after allowing 560 yards of offense and being outscored 35-6 in the second half.

A performance resembling anything like that one will almost certainly result in a similar outcome against Miles (2-0), and Hampton is aware of that.

"You look at it like this, you have a team that's 2-0 versus a team that's 0-2," he explained. "Miles College just beat a team in our conference that beat Southern the week before. So what more motivation do you need? That's a good football team."

The Golden Bears are seemingly on the brink of a turnaround under second-year Coach Sam Shade.

Miles went 1-9 in 2022 but was impressive in its first two games this year, especially in its 21-17 victory over Alabama State last week when it scored 14 consecutive points in the fourth quarter to win. The Golden Bears have gotten extended production both on the ground and especially through the air, which is something Hampton pointed out in particular.

"They play hard, and they play until the end of the game," Hampton said of Miles. "They were down 14-0 [to Alabama State], and they never gave up. Their quarterback can really spin it, and they've got three or four receivers that are really good football players. ... they've got football players that can play on this level and at the next level above."

Jonero Scott, a 5-9 running back, is averaging just over 67 yards on the ground and has scored three touchdowns while Edwin Kleinpeter, a 6-1 transfer from the University of Arkansas at Monticello, has gone 29 of 41 passing for 435 yards with 5 touchdowns tosses to four different players.

"Once you turn the film on, you watch those receivers, and it's like 'oh, oh, wait a minute,' " Hampton said. "They've got some really good receivers, and I could use some of them. As a competitor, you want to dominate the man in front of you, and that's all we need to do. We need to go out there and win our battles."

UAPB (0-2) has encountered a pair of tough battles in consecutive weeks, but the Golden Lions displayed a heavy dose of fight previously against Tennessee State. Like Miles did in its win over Alabama State, UAPB roared back in the fourth quarter but fell short 24-14 after a potential game-tying field goal was blocked and returned for a clinching touchdown for the Tigers.

There was still a lot for Hampton to like about what the Golden Lions were able to do, albeit in a tight loss. Johness Davis rushed for 167 yards with a score, and Jalen Macon turned it on after halftime to finish 20 of 25 passing for 209 yards and a score.

Hampton envisions his team exerting that same kind of energy in front of a home crowd in a game that could serve as a launching pad for the remainder of the season.

"I'll be honest, just for me being a Southeast Arkansas guy, my hometown is 45 minutes away," Hampton said. "Man, I'm just excited about seeing all the black and gold inside our own stadium. Last week, it was tremendous. I looked up there, it was black and gold all over that place [in Memphis].

"But for our kids, [Simmons Bank Field] is the field that we practice on. Getting to wake up in your bed on campus, you get a chance to be around your classmates, and your classmates get a chance to support you. So we owe them, and that's what you're most excited about."

Amidst all that excitement, Hampton still knows it's a business trip for Miles, and he doesn't expect the Golden Bears to flinch, particularly not with the momentum they've generated..

"We're gonna have our work cut out for us, but we're excited about the opportunity," he stated. "We're not gone back down, we're going to give them all due respect. But we'll be ready for them [today] when they get to Pine Bluff, Arkansas."

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