By Donal Ware
College Sports Journal
BIRMINGHAM, AL. — The Southwestern Conference football championship and Winston-Salem State's run to the NCAA Division II semifinals are two hot topics this week in the world of Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
But first, let's take time to look a major upset from last Saturday.
Last week’s Pioneer Bowl game – which pits the SIAC representative against the CIAA representative – was a shocker.
Elizabeth City State defeated the favorite Tuskegee Golden Tigers, 28-13.
The Vikings' win increases slightly their chances of finishing in the top 10 in the final HBCU poll, but more so decreases the chances of the Golden Tigers finishing in the top three and perhaps the top five.
If you ask most HBCU football observers they will tell you that SIAC football is much better than CIAA football and that the CIAA is known more for its basketball and specifically its tournament.
Yet, it was the CIAA’s third-straight victory in the Pioneer Bowl.
Speaking of myths, the Winston-Salem State Rams are in the NCAA Division II national semifinals for the second year in a row.
The Rams are 13-0 and are coming off a 24-21 come from behind win over Indiana of Pennsylvania last week.
One fan tweeted me and likened WSSU’s win to Willis Reed’s famous moment, as injured quarterback Kameron Smith came off the bench with the Rams offense struggling to lead the game winning nine-play, 52-yard drive as he completed four of five passes for 30 yards and the one yard touchdown pass to Ricky Rozier with three minutes, 51 seconds remaining.
The underrated Rams defense held on fourth and goal from the WSSU five-yard line to preserve the victory.
WSSU will host West Texas A&M on Saturday at home.
Boxtorow National Game of the Week
Jackson State (7-4) vs. Arkansas-Pine Bluff (9-2)
Both teams make returns to the SWAC championship game at Legion Field in Birmingham, AL on Saturday, UAPB for the first time since 2006, JSU the first time since 2008.
The teams met on Oct. 6, with UAPB coming away with a 34-24 victory at home.
As a matter of fact, for the Golden Lions, their current six-game winning streak started with that win, after a 40-13 loss to Tennessee State the previous week.
"The game against Tennessee State was the turning point in the season,"
said UAPB fifth-year head coach Monte Coleman. "You could see it in the
kids’ eyes that they didn’t like the way that felt. Sometimes it takes a
loss to turn your team around."
While the first win was big, Coleman knows it’s hard to beat a team twice in a season.
The Tigers fumbled the ball seven times, losing four. Furthermore, the Golden Lions were susceptible to the run as the Tigers piled up 319 yards on the ground.
In its last five games UAPB has given up an average of only 103.8 yards per game.
The Golden Lions have plenty of playmakers on defense.
SWAC Defensive Player of the Year defensive end Brandon Thurmond leads the SWAC in sacks (16.5) and is second in tackles for loss (25). He had one sack the last
time the teams met.
Linebacker Bill Ross is the other big playmaker for the Golden Lions. His 117 tackles leads the league and he also has three interceptions, two of which he has returned for touchdowns.
Offensively, UAPB is very balanced. It begins with first team All-SWAC
quarterback Benjamin Anderson.
The conference freshman of the year last year is completing 59 percent of his passes for 2,121 yards 15 touchdowns and 11 interceptions and has rushed for 483 yards and four touchdowns as a sophomore.
UAPB runs the ball better than any team in the conference (204.7 yards per game), led by Justin Billings (129-768-5) and his six-yards-per-carry average and change of pace back Dennis Jenkins (10-539-4).
At the beginning of the season, Jackson State was not supposed to be eligible for the conference championship game.
The Tigers were still reeling from APR (Academic Progress Report) sanctions from the NCAA that kept them out of last year’s game and that were also supposed to keep them out this year.
As a matter of fact, Jackson State University was considering releasing head coach Rick Comegy at the end of last season.
The Tigers finished 8-3 last year, enough to renew Comegy’s contract for two years and in April of this year the NCAA approved a proposal to give low-resource schools more time to comply with APR requirements, thus lifting the postseason ban against JSU.
"When we made our appeal the NCAA saw the growth of what was going on academically and the things that were put in place," said Comegy, in his seventh season as the head man at Jackson State. "I was hoping when they saw what we were doing they would give us this opportunity and they did and we’re grateful they allowed that."
It seemed as if the Tigers would not be able to take advantage of their good fortune.
They started the season 2-4 including the loss to UAPB. Since the the UAPB game, the Tigers have won five straight including wins over Eastern Division favorites Alabama State and Alabama A&M.
SWAC offensive player of the year Rico Richardson was virtually unstoppable this year racking up 1,081 yards on 56 catches, averaging 19.3 yards per reception with 10 touchdowns.
Richardson had only three catches on Oct. 6, but Tigers quarterbacks only completed 11 passes in 26 attempts, while JSU ran the ball 60 times.
Speaking of quarterback, Clayton Moore has been the starter since the winning streak began.
Dedric McDonald was initially the starter but Moore has played in every game this year.
Since becoming the starter, Moore has completed 52 percent of his passes for 976 yards, seven touchdowns and five interceptions, not exactly numbers that set the world on fire.
But he is a threat with his legs and has rushed for 564 yards and 10 touchdowns.
As was mentioned the Tigers rushing attack is very good.
Rakeem Sims and Tommy Gooden have combined to rush for 1,202 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Throw Moore into the mix and the Tigers average 187 yards rushing per game.
The JSU defense is solid led by first-team, All-SWAC defensive end Joseph
Despite being double teamed regularly, LeBeau has eight sacks and 22 tackles for loss on the season and has taken his play against the run to another level.
All-SWAC cornerback Qua Cox is one of the best in the league and leads the team in interceptions (4) and pass breakups (6).
Back on Oct. 6, the Tigers held Anderson to 30 yards passing as he completed just 5-of-17 attempts but the Golden Lions rushed for 263 yards and the Tigers will have to do a better job of stopping the run, while still holding Anderson in check.
Editor's Note: Donal Ware is one of the leading voices in Historically Black College and University football. His Boxtorow.com website, popular articles for such publications as Jet magazine and regular radio shows for such networks as Sirius/XM have given him a high profile in the college and professional sports world. You can read more of his material at Boxtorow.com