That was far from what the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff hoped for.
The Golden Lions hosted Southern with plans to present itself as a challenger for the SWAC West division crown. However, the Jaguars refused to cooperate.
Southern pulled away from UAPB in the second half on its way to a 31-7 victory.
“The atmosphere was electric. It didn’t end the way we wanted, but we’re talking about building a culture,” UAPB coach Cedric Thomas said. “I’m excited about the journey. We come from adverse situations. I expect us to be back Monday to right our wrongs.”
A missed opportunity by UAPB early in the fourth quarter doomed its chances for a victory.
At the start of the fourth, the Golden Lions – trailing by 14 – had a third-and-goal inside the Southern 5.
However, a third down run was stuffed for a 1-yard loss.
Now facing a fourth-and-goal from the 5, a slant pass was off target and fell incomplete.
“That killed us. That killed me,” Thomas said. “I got a real sour taste in my mouth because of that. Actually, that was very deflating.”
Forcing the UAPB turnover on downs gave Southern (2-3, 1-0) a huge emotional boost. It then went on a physical, 11-play, 6-minute, run-oriented touchdown drive to deliver the knockout blow to the Golden Lions.
Southern’s 95-yard drive ended with Ladarius Skelton scoring on a 5-yard quarterback keeper. The point after by Martell Fontenot increased the Jaguar lead to 28-7 with just over eight minutes left to play.
“That solidified the win,” Southern coach Dawson Odums said. “We stopped ‘em and then the offense goes on a 95-yard drive to put a touchdown on the board to deflate UAPB. We thought we seized control of the game because of that drive.”
Thomas complimented the Jaguars, defending SWAC West Division champions, on how they responded early in the fourth.
“That was a gut-punch by Southern,” Thomas said. “You gotta fill those gaps defensively. We gotta improve up front and do the things to stop people, if not teams will keep running the ball on us.”
The TD was the third of the game by Skelton, a Pine Bluff native who also passed for 157 yards.
“Once we gashed them with the run the first few times, I told coach to keep running it,” Skelton said. “Don’t fix anything that ain’t broke.”
Odums credited the quarterback for Southern’s success.
“Skelton was really good. When he plays well, we got a chance against anybody,” he said. “The reason we executed is because Skelton played well.”
The junior did exactly what he’s capable of doing, according to Thomas.
“Skelton is an athletic quarterback that you gotta keep your eyes on,” the coach said. “He made some big plays. He’s a two-time state champion, a winner, a big athlete, and he made big plays.”
With 1:14 remaining in the game, Fontenot made a 46-yard field goal for the final score of 31-7.
“We said all week leading up to the game, ‘To be the man you gotta beat the man’. Southern … they are the man,” Thomas said.
UAPB (3-2, 1-1) never led in this game as it quickly fell behind by two scores.
With just under four minutes left in the first quarter, Skelton kept the ball and maneuvered his way through the line of scrimmage for a 4-yard TD to put the Jaguars up 7-0.
Later in the quarter, Jaguar defensive end Joe Davis read a Golden Lion screen attempt and picked off the pass. Southern now had the ball on the UAPB 34.
The Jaguars took advantage of the opportunity with 40.8 seconds left in the first quarter when Jarod Sims ran up the gut of the Golden Lion defense for a 3-yard touchdown. The Jaguars’ lead was now 14-0.
Trailing by two scores, UAPB needed a break of some kind. That’s exactly what Thomas’ team got when defensive back Blake Conner got under a deflected pass from Skelton and picked it off at the Jaguar 25.
The Golden Lions finally got on the board when freshman running back Omar Allen ran 13 yards up the middle of the field for a touchdown. Zack Piwniczka made the point after. The score was now 14-7 with 12:14 left in the first half.
However, Southern later bounced back thanks to Skelton.
He helped the Jaguars score, with 3:48 left in the second quarter, when he scrambled away from the UAPB defensive front and broke into the middle of the field. Skelton was then by himself as he ran 19 yards for a touchdown giving the Jaguars a 21-7 lead.
At the start of the fourth, the Golden Lions had a great chance to score. But the host couldn’t get into the end zone turning the ball over on downs. Southern then responded with a scoring drive that put the game out of reach.
“That’s a good football team. They were 3-1 for a reason,” Odums said. “I just thought our guys played well in all three phases of the game.”
The Golden Lions, who played without leading rusher Keshawn Willams due to an injury, didn’t achieve their goal. But Thomas knows his team will be OK.
“We’ll be back,” the coach said. “We’ll brush ourselves off. I couldn’t be more proud of my team. We’ll be just fine.”