Tuesday, December 4, 2012
SWAC title up for grabs on Saturday
By Donald Hunt
Special to ESPN.com
When Arkansas-Pine Bluff faces Jackson State for the SWAC championship at Legion Field in Birmingham on Saturday (ESPNU and WatchESPN, 1 p.m. ET), there’s no question that the two best teams in the conference will be playing for the title.
Both have played great football to get to this point and nobody is sneaking through the backdoor.
UAPB (9-2 overall, 8-1 SWAC) is coming in with a six-game winning streak, which ironically began with a 34-24 victory over Jackson State in mid-October. Jackson State (7-4 overall, 7-2) has won five consecutive games.
It’s going to be interesting to see how the Tigers respond. Jackson State coach Rick Comegy guided the Tigers to the SWAC crown in 2007 with a 42-31 win over Grambling State so he has experience on his side.
If Comegy takes a look at the loss to UAPB, he’ll see that his team has to stop the run against the Golden Lions to have a chance to win. Dennis Jenkins, in particular, had a big game on the ground, rushing for 154 yards on 24 carries.
On the other side, Monte Coleman has done a wonderful job as the Golden Lions’ coach, and his efforts haven’t gone unnoticed as UAPB ran away with the Western Division title. Coleman has emerged as a finalist for the Eddie Robinson Award, which is presented to the top FCS coach in the nation.
UAPB has a pretty good passing attack with quarterback Benjamin Anderson (2,121 yards, 15 touchdowns and 11 interceptions). Anderson’s main target is wide receiver Ladarius Eckwood, who has 46 receptions for 742 yards and six touchdowns.
Although the Golden Lions can throw the football, look for them control the game on the ground. Justin Billings is the team’s leading rusher with 768 yards on 129 carries.
Defensively, UAPB has three big time playmakers with linebackers Bill Ross and Xavier Lofton and defensive end Brandon Thurmond. Ross leads the conference in tackles with 117, including 63 solo.
Lofton has been sensational against the run with 93 total tackles (50 solo), while Thurmond gives the Golden Lions a tremendous pass rush with his SWAC-leading 16.5 sacks.
Jackson State has two great offensive players in wide receiver Rico Richardson and running back Rakeem Sims. Richardson, a legitimate NFL prospect, has 56 receptions for 1,081 yards and 10 TDs. He averages 19.3 yards a catch. Sims has amassed 714 yards on 140 carries while scoring eight TDs. He averages 5.1 yards a carry.
On defense, Tigers defensive end Joseph LeBeau has eight sacks and knows how to get to the quarterback. He has help from defensive tackle Johnathan Billups, who is explosive up the middle with six sacks. The Tigers also have plenty of talent in the secondary with defensive back Qua Cox, who has four interceptions.
This should be a great season-ending matchup with the league championship on the line.
SBN Sports Network Black College Football Poll
1. Winston-Salem State
2. Arkansas-Pine Bluff
5. Tennessee State
6. Jackson State
7. Alabama State
8. Alabama A&M
10. North Carolina A&T
Contact Donald Hunt with HBCU questions, comments or story ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.