Many experts didn't view Arkansas-Pine Bluff as a powerhouse at the beginning of the season. However, the Golden Lions (3-3, 2-2 SWAC) could be a team to watch over the next month in the Southwestern Athletic Conference.
Arkansas Pine-Bluff picked up a huge 33-28 victory over defending conference champ Grambling State (2-4, 2-2) before 30,216 fans in the inaugural Delta Classic for Literacy at Little Rock's War Memorial Stadium Saturday.
The win gave the Golden Lions a tie for first place with Grambling State in the SWAC's Western Division. Arkansas-Pine Bluff head coach Maurice "Mo" Forte feels his team took a big step in beating the Tigers, a perennial power in the SWAC.
"Our football team showed a lot of maturity," Forte said. "Time after time there were opportunities for both teams to really sit back and not play any more because things were happening that way. Both teams just kept on showing the resilience to come back.
"It was a great game for the fans. It showed a lot of qualities that you need for a championship football team. Speaking about our football team, you always have to be able to pick yourself up off the turf and go back the next play."
Offensively, the Golden Lions have a number of key contributors, such as quarterback Chris Wallace (68 of 110, 1,043 yards, eight TDs, two interceptions); running backs Martell Mallett (113 carries for 674 yards, seven TDs) and Dedrick Poole (13-124 yards, two TDs), who had a 97-yard run against Grambling State; and wide receiver Jason Jones (20 receptions for 499 yards, six TDs). On the defensive side, Arkansas-Pine Bluff has received some outstanding play from linebacker Justin Bass (34 total tackles, nine solo, 4.5 for loss), cornerback Kalvin Moore (12 total tackles, seven solo, seven pass breakups) and defensive tackle Aaron Hence (13 total tackles, 11 solo).
Forte has been very pleased with the contributions of his players. He likes the fact that he doesn't have to rely on a few individuals to carry the team.
"We had several guys step up," Forte said. "We had big plays. Our offense played well. Our defense played well when they had to. Our efforts are star-studded. It's a total team effort."
Arkansas-Pine Bluff will host Alabama A&M (5-1, 3-1) in a key conference matchup on Saturday afternoon in Pine Bluff. The Bulldogs are ranked No. 20 in the Sports Network Division I-AA poll. Moreover, this is a homecoming game for the Golden Lions.
"Alabama A&M is always a tough football team to play against," Forte said. "They're extremely quick and physical. Coach [Anthony] Jones and his staff do an excellent job. They have two All-Americans [quarterback Kelcy Luke and running back Nic Luke] over there. We're going to have to come up with a great game plan and be able to execute it successfully."
• Hampton University quarterback Princeton Shepherd was named the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Week. Shepherd was named Offensive MVP of the Battle of the Bay after accounting for 259 yards of total offense and four touchdowns against Norfolk State to improve to 28-5 as a starter. He completed 12 of 19 passes for 209 yards and a career-high four TD passes. He also rushed for a season-high 50 yards.
• Morgan State linebacker Jerrell Guyton was chosen as the MEAC Defensive Player of the Week. Guyton posted nine tackles and a sack while also recording one of the biggest plays of his college career. On first and goal at the Morgan 1-yard line in the second overtime period, quarterback William Blanden fumbled, allowing Guyton to recover the ball. Guyton ran 20 yards and passed it back to defensive back Everette Baker. Baker scooted 79 yards for the game-winning touchdown against Howard University.
• Jackson State wide receiver Jaymar Johnson was named the SWAC Offensive Player of the Week. Johnson had 199 receiving yards on seven catches, scored on a 67-yard pass play in the second quarter and scored on a 70-yard catch-and-run in the third quarter against Southern University.
• Alcorn State linebacker Lee Robinson was named the SWAC Defensive Player of the Week. Robinson had 11 total stops (eight solo) along with two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, a pass breakup, four tackles for loss and three sacks for 31 yards against Texas Southern.
• Hampton nose guard Vernon Bryant started to come into his own toward the end of the 2005 season and he's picked up right where he's left off. Bryant, who totaled 29 tackles and 4.5 sacks in his first two seasons, leads the Pirates with three sacks this year. He has also added 14 tackles.
• Nic and Kelcy Luke continue to play good football for Alabama A&M. The Luke brothers are having record-breaking seasons. Nic, who has been nursing an injured groin the past month, set the school career rushing record -- measured from when the Bulldogs joined Division I-AA in 1998 -- with a 48-yard weaving scamper on his first run against Stillman College in Week 7. Nic finished with 83 yards on 11 carries and now has 1,746 yards in his Alabama A&M career, breaking the mark of 1,680 held by Jeremiah Bonds.
Kelcy came just 15 yards short of capturing the same record for passing. His career-high 297-yard output moved him to 3,494 career passing yards. Johnnie Keith holds the record at 3,508.
• Grambling State defensive back T.J. McCord had a monster game against Arkansas Pine-Bluff. McCord had seven tackles, one sack, and a 65-yard fumble return for a TD. He was named the SWAC Newcomer of the Week.
• South Carolina State RB William Ford had his second 100-yard rushing performance of the year, rolling up 132 yards with two TDs in just 14 attempts, for 9.4 yards per carry. Ford had scoring runs of 59 and 24 yards in the Bulldogs' win at Florida A&M. He was also named MEAC Rookie of the Week.
Donald Hunt is a columnist for The Philadelphia Tribune.