At halftime of Saturday’s game in Houston, the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff seemed well on its way to finishing the season without a conference win.
Instead, the Golden Lions played their best half of football all season to stun Texas Southern 35-34 at Shell Energy Stadium in both teams’ season finale.
UAPB (2-9, 1-7 SWAC) outscored Texas Southern 28-3 in the second half to rally from a deficit and earn head coach Alonzo Hampton his first conference win.
Texas Southern (3-8, 2-6) led 31-7 at halftime. Late in the third quarter, UAPB quarterback Mekhi Hagens completed a pass at the goal line to Kenji Lewis for a touchdown. Early in the fourth, Hagens scored on a 4-yard run, then took it himself again to convert the 2-point try.
Midway through the fourth, Texas Southern was set to punt. Cameron Roetherford broke through and blocked it. Khalil Arnold scooped it up and, as he was being tackled, turned around and pitched it to Elijah Jenkins. The junior defensive end caught it and scored, making it a 34-28 game.
On the next drive, defensive back Grant Ewell Jr. punched the ball out of Tigers running back LaDarius Owens’ hands, and the Golden Lions recovered the fumble in Tiger territory.
With 1:46 to play, Hagens powered through a big hit to tie the game, and Dean Sarris kicked the game-winning extra point. The UAPB defense stopped Owens on fourth down and took a knee, finishing the season with a big road win.
UAPB running back Michael Jamerson finished with 113 rushing yards, while Hagens had 49 and two scores. Through the air, Hagens completed 15 of 37 passes for 193 yards and a touchdown.
Owens, Texas Southern’s all-time leading rusher, was a big reason the Golden Lions faced a 31-7 halftime deficit. He scored touchdowns on each of Texas Southern’s first three drives to put the Tigers up 21-0. He finished with 146 yards.
UAPB cut the deficit to 21-7 with a 1-yard touchdown run by Johnny Williams two plays after a 43-yard pass from Hagens to Daemon Dawkins.
Texas Southern quarterback Jace Wilson fumbled on the Tigers’ next drive, and Arnold recovered it for UAPB, setting up the Golden Lions at the Tigers' 23-yard line. UAPB quickly reached the 1-yard line and called a quarterback sneak on 3rd and goal, looking to score a second-straight touchdown.
Jacob Williams had other ideas. The Texas Southern linebacker and reigning SWAC defensive player of the week knocked the ball out of Hagens’ hands as he reached the ball toward the goal line.
Safety Canary Simmons scooped it up and had nothing but grass between him and the end zone 96 yards away. Instead of trimming the deficit to 7 points, UAPB found itself trailing 28-7. The Tigers later added a field goal on the final play of the first half.
At halftime, Texas Southern was outgaining UAPB 270-109. After the final whistles blew, UAPB had outgained Texas Southern 391-337 after scoring more than 24 points for the first time this season.
This win kept the Golden Lions from finishing a season without a SWAC win for the first time since the Golden Lions rejoined the league in 1997. It also gives UAPB a momentum boost heading into the offseason.