e_SDLqCoaches mentioned to us that the refs will be calling the game extra tight, so any little thing can be a 15-yard penalty. Our coaches said to us that any 15-yard penalty, we’re out the game — any personal foul penalty of that nature.” CHRIS BROWNE, Southern offensive tackle
Southern cornerback Virgil Williams remembers shaking the last Arkansas-Pine Bluff player’s hand, turning around and watching all hell break loose.
Receiver Lee Doss remembers UAPB fans stoking the fire all afternoon with taunts directed at the SU sideline, helping start something “that shouldn’t have happened.”
Left tackle Chris Browne recalls everyone losing their cool. Defensive tackle Casey Narcisse remembers being one of them, taking “a split second” before jumping into the fray.
And special teams coach Marty Biagi — then an assistant with the Golden Lions — remembers ducking through the melee to pull out players, “like a World War II medic.”
No one could forget the result: Southern scoring a touchdown with no time left, then having the extra point blocked to seal a 22-21 UAPB win and spark an ugly brawl that ended in a cloud of pepper spray and 41 player suspensions.
When the two teams meet at 6 p.m. Saturday in A.W. Mumford Stadium, many of those players will be back on the field together. But this game will be about far more than a chance at Round 2.
There’s too much at stake for that.
“We’re not worried about the fight we were in last year,” said Doss, one of SU’s 16 suspended players. “We’re worried about first place.”
That’s what’s on the line between the Jaguars (3-3, 2-2 Southwestern Athletic Conference) and Golden Lions (4-2, 3-1). UAPB leads the SWAC West by a game over Southern. An SU win would put it in the lead by way of a head-to-head tiebreaker and provide a leg up toward the first division title since 2004. A loss would widen the gap.
With all that — the fight included — in mind, there has been a more intense atmosphere at Southern.
“It’s a rival now,” Narcisse said.
And players are treating it as such, sensing the chance for a season-defining performance.
“It’s more exciting to know you’re in the hunt for a championship,” Browne said. “Everyone is watching extra film. I went up there (Tuesday) morning and I see guys watching film, so it’s exciting.”
What they’re seeing is a squad not so different from themselves.
The teams are separated by 0.1 in scoring offense, 2.5 in scoring defense and just two yards in total defense.
The Golden Lions’ biggest advantage has come via more offensive consistency, and they’ve outgained the Jaguars by nearly 120 rushing yards per game.
Solid defense, a reliable ground game and limited turnovers — a winning formula so far for Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
But its trip to Baton Rouge comes at a less-than-perfect time, as Southern is fresh off a 34-7 demolition of Texas Southern, which was its best performance of the year by far.
And that win drew a crowd of 25,400, which was the largest since 2009 and an omen that the Jaguars should have solid support again this weekend.
“I tell people when you go on the road, you should be a seven-point underdog,” interim coach Dawson Odums said. “The fans should create an environment that’s like no other. We’re blessed to have Jag Nation behind us because they’re very supportive. We need them to be loud and we need this to be a furious stadium once again.”
Even with all the talk on moving past last year’s fight, Odums said he knows that hostile atmosphere is likely carry onto the field as well.
“Of course, it’s going to be touchy now, but it’s supposed to be like that when you’re playing for first place,” Odums said.
He warned his players to stay disciplined and avoid getting into any back-and-forth with UAPB players — especially since the officials are likely to be extra vigilant in hopes of curtailing any issues.
As Narcisse put it, “Coach Odums really wants to tape our mouths shut for the rest of the week.”
Both teams average more than 10 penalties per game, with Southern ranking seventh in the league at an average of 77.8 penalty yards. The Golden Lions are eighth at 84.5, a number that bothered coach Monte Coleman to the point where he felt the need to bring in referees for practices.
“Coaches mentioned to us that the refs will be calling the game extra tight, so any little thing can be a 15-yard penalty,” Browne said. “Our coaches said to us that any 15-yard penalty, we’re out the game — any personal foul penalty of that nature.”
But as Browne and his teammates said, it shouldn’t have to come to that.
Last year’s close margin and fight provided the fire for this week’s matchup, but there’s enough at stake to keep it to a focused, smoldering burn.
“It’s first place,” Browne said. “There’s not much motivation needed for that.”