Prairie View, Grambling Face Off in Cotton Bowl
Written by Roscoe Nance, Special to BlackAmericaWeb.com Saturday, 01 October 2011 05:33
The State Fair Classic, featuring Grambling State against Prairie View A&M, has become one of the biggest games on the Black College Football schedule, annually attracting upwards of 50,000 fans to the venerable Cotton Bowl Stadium in Dallas.
Grambling is a traditional power, having won 14 SWAC championships and 23 Black College titles; Prairie View, a perennial power in the 1950s and ’60s with five national championships, has emerged as a contender in recent years – the Panthers won the 2009 SWAC – after decades as an also-ran.
Both will be fighting to stay alive in the SWAC West race when they square off Saturday night. Arkansas-Pine Bluff is the surprise West Division leader with a 2-0 conference record.
Grambling (1-3, 1-2 SWAC) was the preseason pick to win the SWAC title. But the G-Men are on the brink of elimination from the West race after back-to-back losses to Alabama A&M and Alabama State.
Prairie View (2-2, 2-1 SWAC) needs a victory to stay within striking distance of Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
“It’s a very big game, not only for us as an institution but for the conference as a whole," first-year Prairie View coach Heishma Northern says. “Both schools have large alumni bases in the area, and it’s one of best attended games. Not only that, but a win keeps us in contention in SWAC race. That’s most important. This may be a year where a three-loss team comes out of the West (to play in the SWAC Championship game), but I’d rather keep pace with Pine-Bluff and come out with a win."
Arkansas-Pine Bluff in 2006 became the only school that has won the West title with more than one conference loss. The Golden Lions were 7-2 in conference play that season.
That doesn’t bode well for Grambling’s chances of fulfilling the preseason predictions and adding to its championship collection.
The combination of inexperience – Grambling’s top two quarterback’s are freshmen – and injuries has left the G-Men vulnerable and without much margin for error. However, G-Men’s coach Doug Williams is being philosophical about his team’s plight.
“My back isn’t against the wall," Williams says. "We didn’t pick us. They did. They did. I had spring practice with these guys. I knew what we were working with. I would love for them to live up to the billing. But they forgot we had two freshmen quarterbacks. I hope they would have played way they voted us. But you got to be real with yourself. You got to have playmakers. We haven’t had guys stand up and make plays."
Grambling is coming off a disappointing 20-14 loss to Alabama A&M in the G-Men’s home opener. Grambling committed eight turnovers, losing four fumbles and throwing four interceptions.
On the positive side, the G-Men had their most productive game running the ball after juggling their offensive line. Dawrence Roberts rushed for 198 yards. Williams, however, is ready to Roberts as the second coming of Walter Payton.
“I played in (Super Bowl XX) with a guy (Timmy Smith) who had 203 yards and was never heard from again," he says. “I was glad we were able to run the ball. It was good news for the offensive line. It hadn’t played up to potential. I hope it will be a carryover. If we can take pressure of our young position (quarterback) and put them in second and short and third and short ... That was a great game for us to start building toward things we want to do."
Prairie View, however, may not be the opponent of choice to continue to build against.
The Panthers have been making impressive strides since their opening day debacle, a 63-14 loss to Bethune-Cookman in the MEAC/SWAC Challenge.
“We’re taking care of the ball better," Northern says. “We’re getting stops here and there, and some injured players have returned. We’re playing faster."
The Panthers have averaged two turnovers while winning two of their last three games. Their only loss was a 36-29 loss at home to Arkansas-Pine Bluff. The Golden Lions scored the winning touchdown with 49 seconds left after Prairie View led 29-14 at the end of the fourth quarter.
Prairie View’s offense has the key to the Panthers’ resurgence. Prairie View has averaged 38.6 points in its last three games after freshman Jerry Lovelocke replaced senior Jonathan Troast, who started the season opener. Lovelocke has thrown for 592 yards and six touchdowns.
“He’s done what he was supposed to do," Northern says. “He didn’t force the ball. We’ve got to get him settled down and doing the things he can. I would give him C+ so far. A young quarterback is like pretty girl. They will have you pulling your hair out sometimes and then have you hugging and loving them."
Lovelocke is one of two quarterbacks on the 15-player watch list for The Sports Network’s inaugural Jerry Rice Award, which will go to the top freshman in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS).
Lovelocke benefitted from a strong running game in Prairie View’s 43-34 win over Mississippi Valley State last week. The Panthers rushed for 308 yards, and they had four ball carriers who gained at least 45 yards, led by Fred Anderson with 91.
“As long as can run ball, we’ll be in good shape," Northern says. “But that will be daunting task against Grambling."
Grambling entered the season with a highly touted defensive line - consisting of Antonio Leonard, Antoine Rogers and Jomarcus Savage - that was supposed to be impossible to run against. However, Savage has been injured, and opponents have gashed the G-Men on the ground. Alabama A&M rushed for 258 yards against them, with Kaderius Lacey accounting for 178.
The State Fair Classic started in 1925, with Wiley College and Langston facing each other the first four years. The game initially was always played on Monday, Negro Day at the State Fair of Texas – a practice that lasted well into the 1960s. The city high school championship game was played in the afternoonm with the college game at night, making the State Fair Classic the forerunner of "Monday Night Football."
Prairie View replaced Langston as Wiley’s opponent in 1929. The Panthers have had a continuous presence in the State Fair Classic since 1967, except for 1990, when their program was disbanded, and 1991. They first faced Grambling in the Classic in the mid-1980s; the G-Men have been their opponent in the game every year since 1992 after having played Elizabeth City State in 1990 and North Carolina A&T in 1991.
The Grambling-Prairie View matchup annually draws upwards of 50,000 fans to the venerable Cotton. Once upon a time, the main attraction was the halftime show, as Grambling dominated the action on the playing field. Prairie View’s 35-32 victory in 2009 was their first ever win against the G-Men in the Classic and just their second anyplace since 1986.
Tuskegee (0-3, 0-1 SIAC) at Fort Valley State (1-3, 1-1 SIAC): It has been a disappointing season for both teams. Tuskegee is 0-3 for the first time since 1995 when the Golden Tigers lost their first seven games and finished 2-9. This is the first year for the SIAC’s two-division alignment, and the good news for the Golden Tigers – the preseason pick to win the West – is they still have a shot at the division title. But another loss would put their championship hopes in grave jeopardy. The Golden Tigers’ offense has been ineffective, largely because of inconsistent play at quarterback. Coach Willie Slater has started three different signal callers in his team’s three losses. Fort Valley, tabbed to challenge defending conference champion Albany State in the East, needs a win to keep the Rams, who are unbeaten in the SIAC, in sight. The Wildcats had a strong showing in their season opener as they outplayed Florida A&M for most of the game before losing 28-22. Fort Valley, like Tuskegee, has had offensive problems. The Wildcats have allowed a conference-high 13 sacks, and they are tied with Tuskegee for No. 8 in the conference in time of possession. Both hold on to the ball for 27 minutes and 27 seconds per game.
Arkansas-Pine Bluff (3-1, 2-0 SWAC) at Alabama A&M (2-2, 1-1 SWAC): Arkansas-Pine Bluff is the surprise leader in the SWAC West, while Alabama A&M is trying to stay alive in the East race. Arkansas-Pine Bluff has a three-game winning streak, which matches the second-longest in the Football Championship Subdivision. Redshirt freshman quarterback Benjamin Anderson leads the Golden Lions’ balanced offense, which averages 375.0 yards a game – 213 passing and 162 rushing. Alabama A&M has a two-game winning streak after its first-ever victory at Grambling State last week. The Bulldogs boast the second-leading running game in the SWAC, averaging 164.5 yards a game. Junior running back Kaderius Lacey is the leading rusher conference with 376 yards and 94.0 a game. Lacey gained 178 yards against Grambling.
South Carolina State (2-2, 2-0 MEAC) at Norfolk State (3-1, 1-0 MEAC): Norfolk State can deal itself a hand in the championship race with a victory against the Bulldogs, who are the No. 1 ranked team in Black College Football lead the MEAC. Defense holds the key to victory for Norfolk State. The Spartans lead the MEAC in rushing defense, allowing 75.8 yards a game; fewest points allowed, 17.5 a game, and fewest total yards allowed, 267.2 a game. Offensively, the Spartans are the No. 1 passing team in the conference. They average 248.8 yards a game through the air. Senior quarterback Chris Walley is the top passer in the MEAC. He averages 228.8 yards a game and has completed 76.5 percent of his throws (78-for-102). Walley has thrown six touchdown passes and just one interception. South Carolina State’s defense is the MEAC co-leader with nine interceptions. The Bulldogs also share conference lead for sacks with 12.
Clark Atlanta (2-2, 1-0 SIAC) at Morehouse (3-1, 1-0 SIAC): The winner will emerge as the team with the best chance to overtake Albany State in the SIAC East race. Clark Atlanta has already defeated division foe Fort Valley State, and the Panthers had a strong showing in their 9-6 loss to Arkansas-Pine Bluff last week in the Gateway Classic. Morehouse is the top-scoring team in the SIAC, Averaging 37.0 points a game; Clark Atlanta gives up 12.8 points a game, second-fewest in the conference.
Millersville (1-3) at Cheyney (1-3)
Central State (Ohio) (0-4) at Notre Dame College
Livingstone (1-3, 0-2 CIAA) at Shaw (0-4, 0-1 CIAA)
Chowan (1-3, 0-2 CIAA) at Virginia Union (3-2, 1-1 CIAA)
Johnson C. Smith (2-2, 1-0 CIAA) at Winston-Salem State (4-0, 3-0 CIAA)
Seton Hill (0-4) at West Va. State (0-3)
Lincoln (Pa.) (1-3) at W.Va. Wesleyan (4-0)
Langston (2-2) at Bacone (1-3)
Fort Hayes (1-3) at Lincoln (Mo.) (1-3)
Southern (1-3, 1-1 SWAC) at Miss. Valley State (0-4, 0-3 SWAC)
Miles (1-3, 0-1 SIAC) at Benedict (1-3, 0-1 SIAC)
Albany State (3-1, 1-0 SIAC) vs. Ky. State (3-1, 0-1 SIAC), Indianapolis, Circle City Classic
Concordia-Selma (2-2) at Edward Waters (1-2)
North Carolina A&T (1-2, 0-0 MEAC) at Morgan State (2-2, 1-0 MEAC)
Lane (2-2, 0-1 SIAC) at Stillman (3-1, 2-0 SIAC)
Tenn. State (1-3) at Austin Peay (1-2)
Saint Augustine’s (2-2, 1-1 CIAA) at Fayetteville State (0-4, 0-1 CIAA)
Delaware State (2-2, 0-1 MEAC) at Florida A&M (2-2, 0-1 MEAC)
Bowie State (3-1, 2-1 CIAA) at Virginia State (2-2, 1-1 CIAA)
Alcorn State (1-3, 1-3 SWAC) at Alabama State (3-1, 3-0 SWAC)
Howard (1-3, 0-2 MEAC) at Savannah State (1-3, 1-0 MEAC)
Bethune-Cookman (2-1) at Miami (1-2)
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