BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — A 95-yard touchdown pass from Arkansas-Pine Bluff quarterback Benjamin Anderson to Willie Young with 2 minutes left in regulation forced overtime, and the Lions emerged with a 24-21 victory over Jackson State in the Southwestern Athletic Conference championship game at Legion Field.
"Sometimes when you’re dealing with destiny, you can’t change it," said Arkansas-Pine Bluff coach Monte Coleman, the former NFL linebacker and University of Central Arkansas star, who led his team to its first SWAC championship. "We bent but we never broke. Did it scare us? Absolutely, but don’t ever count us out."
Destiny was on the side of the Lions (10-2) in the first overtime game in SWAC championship history. Jackson State (7-5) had the ball first but failed to score when Ryan Deising’s 43-yard field goal attempt was blocked.
Arkansas-Pine Bluff thought it won on the first on the first play of its overtime possession when running back Justin Billings escaped down the sideline and tumbled into the end zone. But he stepped out on the 5-yard line, setting up a first down. Four plays later, Tyler Strickland came on to hit a 26-yard game-winning field goal.
All Jackson State, which outgained the Lions 270 yards to 78 in the first half, could do was wonder how things got away. The Tigers had jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter on a 40-yard pass from Clayton Moore to Rico Richardson and a 37-yard run by Rakeem Sims.
Late in the first half, the Tigers still led by 14 points, 21-7, and seemed on the way to padding the advantage. But Moore fumbled after being hit from behind by linebacker Xavier Lofton, and Bill Ross scooped the ball up and raced 73 yards for a touchdown with 4 seconds left in the half.
Moore said he wasn’t sure if his arm was moving forward before the fumble but said, "They called it a fumble, we lost, so I guess it was."
Jackson State still kept control for most of the second half, although neither offense could generate much success. That didn’t appear likely to change with 2:37 left in the game when a punt by Jackson State’s Tony Dean was downed at the Lions’ 4-yard line. Anderson gained a yard on first down before sending Young deep downfield on a post pattern.
"I looked at the safety on that side, and once I saw him bite on the dig route, I just threw it," Anderson said.
Anderson was hit immediately after throwing the ball and didn’t see Young make the catch. Neither did Jackson State coach Rick Comegy, who looked away because he thought the ball was overthrown.
"I didn’t think he’d track it down," Comegy said. "But he tracked that baby down and tied the score up."
Jackson State never fully recovered, even though the Tigers moved inside Arkansas-Pine Bluff territory before its final regulation possession ended.
"Good football teams find a way to win a game and that’s what we did today," Coleman said. "We’re not here to win one SWAC championship. We’re here to build a dynasty."