By I.C. Murrell

By I.C. Murrell

COMMERCIAL SPORTS EDITOR

This year’s Bayou Classic has become the most important in Arkansas-Pine Bluff football history.

With help from Alabama A&M, the Golden Lions kept their hopes for a SWAC championship alive Saturday with a dominating 42-6 victory over Texas Southern at Golden Lion Stadium. UAPB could only stay alive if Alabama A&M won at Prairie View A&M, and Alabama A&M made it happen with a 17-15 victory to clinch the Eastern Division title and a berth in the Dec. 10 conference championship game in Birmingham, Ala.

“It was an all-around effort by our offense, defense and our special teams to help us get the victory we have today,” coach Monte Coleman said.

UAPB can win the Western Division and advance if Southern defeats Grambling State in next Saturday’s Bayou Classic in New Orleans. If Grambling State wins, the Tigers will clinch the West.

Running back Stephen Jones is sure Southern will do its part in front of a national-TV audience (NBC is televising the Bayou Classic). He promised Thursday the Lions will win the championship if they get in.

“It’s just faith,” Jones said. “I’m a big Christian, and I have big faith. This whole season, I had a feeling we were going to go through a little struggle, but in the end, it was going to pay off.”

But one thing UAPB (6-5, 5-4 SWAC) secured against Texas Southern (4-7, 2-7) was its first winning regular season under Coleman and first since 2006 — the last time the Lions went to the SWAC final. A year ago, Texas Southern won 20-13 in Houston to make the title game, which it won three weeks later, and handed UAPB a 5-6 season.

All of the Lions’ touchdowns were scored by seniors on senior day. Adrian Moore and Jones each rushed for two touchdowns — Moore’s scores were his first of the season — and Rontrell Bailey and T.J. Shelton turned in a TD catch apiece.

“I had gotten in the end zone three or four times this season, and they called it back, so today was my last (regular-season) game as a senior, and I had to give it all I got on the field, so I had to punch it in two times,” said Moore, who totaled 53 yards on 11 carries.

UAPB racked up 390 total yards and had its highest-scoring game of the season against the SWAC’s top-ranked defense. The Lions scored on five consecutive drives in the first half after being forced to punt on the opening possession.

Coleman said it was their best game offensively “by far.”

“Hat’s off to them guys,” Texas Southern coach Kevin Ramsey said. “They rushed for 200-and-something (262) yards. Up front, they just changed the line of scrimmage on us.”

Ramsey said the Lions, who collected 237 yards on the ground at the half, exposed his defense. The Tigers totaled 307 yards, with Riko Smalls completing 13 of 27 passes for 214 yards.

“We’ve got athletes and a lot of playmakers on offense,” Moore said. “If we utilize it right, we can be tough to stop. Looking at (Saturday), Texas Southern — they’re supposed to be the number-one defense? — and we showed what we can do, plain and simple.”

Shelton’s 57-yard TD catch-and-run with 8:56 left in the game was the Lions’ longest play. It was also his only catch of the day and one of only four completions in 10 passes for Ben Anderson, who threw for 102 yards and was only sacked once.

“I couldn’t imagine going out like that,” Shelton said of the long play. “All I was thinking about was a win, but going out like that, I couldn’t be more happier.”

Jones ran 15 times for 92 yards and scored on a 5-yard run with 3:18 left in the first quarter, as UAPB went ahead 7-6. Senior James Harrell intercepted a Smalls pass at the Tigers’ 31 on the next drive, and the Lions pushed the lead to 14-6 in three plays with Moore’s 9-yard run.

The Lions also capitalized on a roughing-the-kicker call in the second quarter after Chris Ewald missed from 24 yards out. Jones ran for his second score from 4 yards out the next play.

UAPB’s Xavier Lofton made a 25-yard return to the Texas Southern 6 after Tigers punter Francois Ejiofor punted into the back of one of his own blockers. UAPB then was assessed an unsportsmanlike penalty for spiking the ball and a delay of game to move the ball back to the 26, but on second down, Bailey took a pass from Anderson 27 yards to make it 28-6.

The Lions’ final drive of the half went 94 yards in eight plays in just more than 2 minutes. Justin Billings made a 40-yard run to aid the drive, and Moore finished it with an 11-yard tote, bouncing off a would-be tackler with 1:06 left.

Momentum was on the Tigers’ side at first. Smalls, under pressure, somehow connected with Richard Samuel with a flatly thrown ball on their first possession, and Samuel managed to spin off a defender and go 58 yards before being stopped at the 1 by Charles Williams. The Lions, however, had a goal-line stand going before Smalls squeaked into the end zone on fourth-and-goal from the 1.

Joe Anderson had 80 yards on four catches to lead the Texas Southern receivers.