The 2021 season is proving to be rough going for the reigning the reigning division champions of the Southwestern Athletic Conference, Alabama A&M and Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
The teams who played for the spring title, won by Alabama A&M, are a combined 1-5 in league play and 4-6 overall. A&M (3-2, 1-2) had it the worst the last week, getting overwhelmed by Jackson State 61-15. Meanwhile, the Lions (1-4, 0-3) fell to Alabama State 35-15.
“They took us to the woodshed,” said A&M coach Connell Maynor, whose team lost on its home field. “But they didn’t take Delta State to the woodshed. We just didn’t show up.
“We didn’t play well at all. Congratulations to coach (Deion) Sanders; he had his team ready not play in all three phases. We didn’t. We fell behind 21-7, and that took our 12th man advantage (the fans) away.”
The Bulldogs trailed 33-7 at halftime as the JSU defense harassed reigning SWAC Offensive Player of the Year Aqeel Glass with eight sacks. The Tigers also sacked his backup, Xavier Lankford, twice for 10 sacks and 66 yards in losses. Glass finished 26 of 40 for 293 yards and two TDs.
UAPB, which plays host to Southern on Saturday, is in last place in the West. The Lions had 338 yards but trailed 28-3 early in the fourth quarter.
“We didn’t get it done,” UAPB coach Doc Gamble said. “We had some chances to score early and didn’t get it done. We were ready to play, had a good week of practice, but it didn’t translate to the field.”
Quarterback Skyler Perry, a New Orleans native, had a rough day before being benched in favor of Xzavier Vaughn. Perry completed only 7 of 25 passes for 43 yards with an interception, and he was sacked twice. The Lions were without big-play skill player Tyrin Ralph, who missed the game because of emergency oral surgery.
“We’re making mistakes in every phase of the game and we’re not able to overcome them,” Gamble said. “Everybody is taking a turn.”
One thing Gamble was sure of: There has been no thinking about the Lions' role as reigning division champs. He also touted the strength of the conference from top to bottom.
“We put that behind us when training camp started,” he said. “Everybody knows this is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately season. We know it’s tough. It’s tough because we’re in a great conference. You have to show up to play every week. You have to be hitting on all cylinders every week. The margin for error is slim to none every week.”
Alcorn State is unbeaten in league play (2-0), a step behind West Division leader Prairie View (3-0), but quarterback Felix Harper struggled throughout Saturday’s 24-20 victory against Grambling. He completed 15 of 23 for 150 yards and two touchdowns with one interception and ran for a score.
“He’s not playing well,” Alcorn coach Fred McNair said. “We’re leaving a lot of points on the field. It’s not about sitting out (the spring season), it’s about performing. He’s got to get better; we have to push him to get better.”
Harper is ranked fourth among SWAC passers with 1,114 yards and eight touchdowns with three interceptions. Alcorn jumped ahead of Grambling 21-3 but scored just three points in the second half as the Tigers rallied.
Grambling had quarterback issues of its own. Starter Noah Bodden took a step back after guiding the G-Men to a victory against Alabama A&M. He was 10 for 27 for 105 yards and a TD with an interception. Aldon Clark relieved him and went 5 for 5 for 67 yards with a TD pass. He also rushed for 67 yards.
“Every week he’s growing, Grambling coach Broderick Fobbs said of Bodden. “There are times he looks good and times he looks like a freshman. He doesn’t always look good, but in time he will.”
Players of the week
Texas Southern quarterback Andrew Body, Florida A&M’s Isaiah Land and Jose Romo-Martinez and Jackson State’s Shedeur Sanders were Player of the Week winners for Week 5.
Body won the offensive honor by completing 28 of 35 passes for 338 yards and rushing for 85 yards in the Tigers' 35-31 win over Southern. Land had five sacks for the Rattlers in their victory against South Carolina State to win the defensive honor.
Romo-Martinez won the special teams award by making three of four field goals, including a 51-yarder. He also had three punts downed inside the 20 and five touchbacks on seven kickoffs. Sanders was the top newcomer, passing for 249 yards and four TDs and running 29 yards for another in a 61-15 win over Alabama A&M.
Jackson State at Alabama State; Prairie View at Bethune-Cookman; Florida A&M at Alabama A&M; Alcorn State at Mississippi Valley State; Texas Southern at Grambling; Southern at Arkansas-Pine Bluff.