Ben Anderson did not forget C.J. Branch as one of his targets. For that, Branch thanked the Arkansas-Pine Bluff quarterback in a big way.

Ben Anderson did not forget C.J. Branch as one of his targets. For that, Branch thanked the Arkansas-Pine Bluff quarterback in a big way.


UAPB faced second-and-7 on the Texas Southern 34, trailing 7-3 in the first quarter. Branch, a senior tight end, went into the game with only five catches on the season, but heard his number called on the play.


"It was a play where the linebacker bit on a play-action fake," Branch said. "Ben found an open hole in the defense and made a move on the guy."


Branch was open on the drag route. He turned up field and dashed toward the right-hand pylon to finish a three-play scoring drive.


The touchdown reception is Branch’s second of the season. And he more than doubled his season total in yardage with that catch alone.


While tight ends are present in the Golden Lions’ Pro-Style offense, that’s not so much the case as playmakers. Junior transfer Ghaleb Al-Saleh has the only other catch this season by a Lions tight end.


"They’re an extension of the offensive line," tight ends coach Damon Nivens said. "We need them to block as well as catch passes. They don’t catch many passes, but I tell them when they do get that opportunity to seize that moment, and that’s what he did. He seized the moment and made a touchdown for us."


Branch’s touchdown was quite a highlight — and very much necessary — in UAPB’s 38-37 victory.


The fifth-year senior, who graduated from Watson Chapel, has four games remaining in his career, with a home battle against Mississippi Valley State coming up this Saturday. After catching 11 passes last season, Branch expects more opportunities to come as his career winds to a close.


"We even have some tight end screen plays in," he said. "Now, we’re using multiple-formation tight end sets."


The career statistics for Branch don’t seem all that big — 19 catches for 201 yards — but he’s become a mainstay at tight end after beginning his UAPB career as a redshirt freshman quarterback alongside a future All-SWAC performer named Anderson. He backed up Anderson his second year before switching to tight end to earn more time on the field.


"He’s matured from a freshman to now," said Nivens, who’s coached Branch in all three of his tight end seasons. "He’s doing big things for us now in the run and pass. He’s become a great asset for us."


Nivens said Branch, who is listed at 250 pounds, lost 20 going into the season. But the weight loss has been important for him to handle the physicality in his role and help with better pass protection for Anderson.


Branch has discovered he’s making improvements in UAPB’s first season with the Pro Style offense.


"The tight ends kind of have been a little bit slow in the offense this year, but with that being said, we’re getting more open looks toward the end of the year," he said.