BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Arkansas-Pine Bluff is trying to claim a piece of history for the program.
The Golden Lions (9-2) are seeking a school-record 10th win and their first Southwestern Athletic Conference championship since 1966 in Saturday’s title game against Jackson State at Legion Field.
“That’s definitely a carrot that’s in our sight that we’re trying for,” Pine Bluff coach Monte Coleman said of the victory mark. “It was a fun year. Any time you’re winning football games, it makes it extremely fun for the coaches and for the team.”
Pine Bluff has won six straight while Jackson State (7-4) has won its last five since falling 34-24 in the teams’ regular-season meeting on Oct. 6.
The Golden Lions’ only SWAC title came as part of a four-way tie for first in 1966. They have matched the 1994 team for the most wins in a season.
Jackson State has won at least a share of 12 SWAC titles, with the last in 2007.
The East Division hasn’t won the championship game since then, starting with the Tigers’ 41-9 loss to Grambling in 2008.
Jackson State righted its season after the Pine Bluff loss.
“We were down. We were wondering what was wrong,” Tigers coach Rick Comegy said. “We felt we had a pretty good football team that could make it but things weren’t going our way.
“The barometer wasn’t really set to how we play. We still were kind of, Who are we? We knew if we didn’t win the next five we wouldn’t have a chance to be here. We closed that chapter and started a new chapter.”
This game features the SWAC offensive and defensive players of the year.
Jackson State wide receiver Rico Richardson won offensive honors after catching 56 passes for 1,081 yards.
“Every play you have to understand and realize that he has very good running ability,” Coleman said. “We’ve got to make sure that we take care of our business when he’s in the game.”
Richardson will need some blocking up front to have time to get open.
Golden Lions defensive end Brandon Thurmond leads the Football Championship Subdivision with 16.5 sacks and was named the league’s top defensive player.
Jackson State not only leads the league with 37 sacks defensively but has yielded a league-low 15. Thurman will try to boost the latter number.
“He’s got a lot of tenacity and he’s a guy that you’ve got to reckon with,” Comegy said. “He’s a good football player, and we’ve got to find a way to get around the heat that he brings.
“Hopefully we can. He’s a guy that you’ve got to definitely look to double-team and get some added protection with, because he can really bring it.”
Pine Bluff leads the SWAC in scoring defense, giving up 18.3 points a game. Jackson State’s offense is scoring 29.2 points a game, second in the league.
Matchups aside, Coleman buys into the adage that it’s hard to complete a sweep when the other team gets a rematch in the same season. There won’t be many secrets between Jackson State and Pine Bluff.
“It is harder to beat a team twice in one year, and I think it’s because of the familiarity that we have with each other,” Coleman said.
Copyright © 2011, Capital City Press LLC • 7290 Bluebonnet Blvd., Baton Rouge, LA 70810 • All Rights Reserved