Hampton, UAPB open SWAC play

UAPB running back Johness Davis carries the ball against Miles College in a Sept. 16 home victory. (Pine Bluff Commercial/I.C. Murrell)

The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff had reason to soak in its previous performance a little longer than normal, but it also had incentive not to.

The Golden Lions decided to do both after finding some middle ground between the two.

"We had about three hours to celebrate because we had to be back on the practice field on Sunday," UAPB Coach Alonzo Hampton, referring to the aftermath of his team's 21-20, home-opening victory over Miles College on Sept. 16. "It was a great environment we had, excited to get the win for the players and coaches. And I think now everybody can kind of relax and just kind of coach football.

"I told the staff and the players that the hardest one is the first one. Now everybody's on the same page."

The Golden Lions had to quickly turn that page because they've got an even more significant test on deck.

UAPB (1-2) will open up Southwestern Athletic Conference play today when it takes on Alabama A&M (1-2, 0-1) at 6:30 p.m. Central inside Louis Crews Stadium in Huntsville, Ala. The game will be nationally televised on ESPNU, which only adds to an already intriguing matchup.

The Bulldogs, who lost 20-10 to Southern a week ago in their league opener, have won 10 of the past 12 meetings with the Golden Lions, including three in a row. But the two teams have waged a pair of memorable games as of late.

Last year, Alabama A&M escaped Pine Bluff with a 34-31 victory on a late field goal. In 2021, the Bulldogs held on for a 40-33 win in the first SWAC Championship Game to be held during the spring.

But the mood around UAPB is more upbeat nowadays, especially after delivering against Miles to give Hampton his first victory as a collegiate head coach.

"Any time you're building a program and setting a foundation, you just need the kids to have some success," Hampton said. "And obviously, we've been able to have some success individually, but as a whole, it was great to get the victory. And we played a great Miles College football team.

"We jumped out on them early, but those guys didn't quit and fought us to the end. We were able to pull it out, and in the past, we hadn't been able to do that. I was proud of our guys sticking to it, and we finished it off."

The Golden Lions were able to do just enough to beat the Golden Bears, but they had several players who left imprints at Simmons Bank Field. UAPB got touchdown passes from quarterbacks Mekhi Hagens, who hadn't played since getting injured in Week 1 against Tulsa, and Jalen Macon. It also had three players rush for at least 34 yards, led by 98 from true freshman B.J. Curry. Defensively, sophomore linebacker Khalil Arnold had a breakout outing with five tackles behind the line of scrimmage, including three sacks.

UAPB would love for that momentum to continue against the Bulldogs, who are trying to get back on track.

"We've got a lot of respect for Alabama A&M," Hampton said. "Just a couple of years ago, they were SWAC champions, and they've got a really good football program. Coach [Connell] Maynor does a good job.

"And for us, it's the first conference game. That, in itself, is enough to get you motivated."

The Bulldogs haven't been as steady as they've been in the past, although it's still fairly early into the season. Alabama A&M is being outgained offensively 375-288 on average and has a plus-one turnover ratio. Also, the Bulldogs have been without starting quarterback Xavier Lankford, who Maynard said is day-to-day after getting hurt against Lane two weeks ago. Backup Quincy Casey has filled in and is coming off a 228-yard performance in the loss to Southern.

Maynaed said he believes today's encounter will be tough, particularly because of the game's timing as well as what he's seen out of the Golden Lions.

"[UAPB] is playing well, they're playing hard," Maynard said. "We've got to be ready to go. It's a short week for us, but it's also a short week for Pine Bluff. Nobody has an advantage, nobody has a disadvantage.

"It's just what it is when you play on Thursday night. You know that's a part of it. You've just got to be prepared."

Hampton concurred with Maynard's assessment.

"It's a short week," he said. "We've got a six-hour bus ride, and six will turn into about eight. And at the end of the day, nobody cares about your problem. So what we've got to do is lock in and get focused. Come out ready to roll."

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WHEN 6:30 p.m. Central today

WHERE Louis Crews Stadium, Huntsville, Ala.

RADIO KPBA-FM, 99.3 Pine Bluff

INTERNET uapblionsroar.com/live


RECORDS UAPB 1-2, 0-0 Southwestern Athletic Conference; Alabama A&M 1-2, 0-0

COACHES UAPB: Alonzo Hampton (1-2 in first season at UAPB and overall); Connell Maynor (30-22 in sixth season at Alabama A&M and 95-53 in 14th season overall)

LAST MEETING A 29-yard field goal from Victor Barbosa with 5:59 to go in the game served as the game-winner in Alabama A&Ms 34-31 victory on Oct. 16, 2022, in Pine Bluff.

NOTEWORTHY The last time UAPB won a game in the series was in 2019 when it rolled to a 52-34 victory at Huntsville after piling up 632 yards of offense. … UAPB linebacker Rico Dozier is tied for second the Southwestern Athletic Conference in total tackles with 31. He, along with former Golden Lions linebacker and current Jackson State defender Isaac Peppers, are behind Alcorn States Terreance Ellis, who has a league-high 35 stops. … Alabama A&Ms Terrell Gardner is fourth in the league in receiving yards (164), second in kick return yardage (121) and first in punt return average (29.0 yards per game). Hes also returned a punt for a touchdown this season. … The Golden Lions have three players ranked in the SWACs top 10 in tackles for loss per game. Khalil Arnold is third with 1.67, Anas Luqman is sixth at 1.25 and Marc Flemming is tied for seventh with 1.0. … Both UAPB and Alabama A&M lost to Football Bowl Subdivision teams in Week 1. The Golden Lions were beaten 42-7 by Tulsa while Vanderbilt defeated the Bulldogs 47-13. … UAPB will play three of its next four games at home, starting with Southern on Sept. 30.