How about that Western Division race?
OK, yes, it’s a slow-speed chase for first place. This is not a vintage year. But with four weeks to go in the Southwestern Athletic Conference regular season, four teams — count ’em up! — still have a shot at finishing first.
Southern, of course, cannot go to the SWAC title game. But the Jaguars are still a half-game out of first place, tied with Grambling and Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
Stump Mitchell mentioned that Monday, as well as the nature of the West race.
“Every game is going to be exciting,” he said. “Every team really needs their home fans to come out and support that home team, to try to create some false starts or whatever it may be for the opponents. And as a road team, every team needs their fans to follow them, to give them that feeling that they’re there for you.”
Some other news, notes and doodads from SWAC Land:
ALCORN STATE: Melvin Spears said he tried to tell his players they were in for an electric atmosphere at A.W. Mumford Stadium, where Southern welcomed a homecoming crowd for a 30-14 win. Before the Braves knew it, they were down 20-0. “We talked to our guys all week about just the atmosphere down there,” Spears said. “It was just outstanding. … The main thing is, we were just ambushed right away. Coach Mitchell had his team up and ready to go. They came out fighting, and really, it was like the old guys say: A good old-fashioned butt-kicking.”
MISSISSIPPI VALLEY STATE: What a week in Itta Bena. The Delta Devils — losers of 18 straight games under second-year coach Karl Morgan — snapped their skid with a surprising 12-9 win over Texas Southern, the reigning conference champion. TSU’s strong ground game managed only 43 rushing yards — a total that stunned Tigers coach Kevin Ramsey. “We didn’t move the ball up front. We didn’t protect,” Ramsey said. “And it was like we were playing the ’86 Bears up there.”
ALABAMA A&M: They’re back. Heading into last week’s Magic City Classic, the Bulldogs were on a five-game winning streak; they hadn’t lost since Sept. 10, when Southern ambushed them 21-6 in Baton Rouge. But 10th-year coach Anthony Jones came through with one of his biggest wins by holding off Alabama State 20-19. The Hornets, of course, were undefeated in SWAC play going in, the consensus No. 1 team in black college football. For Jones, however, it’s back to the grind. A&M faces Alcorn State this week. “Anytime you string together a couple of wins, obviously you’ve got something special going. … But with a little success comes a little pressure, because everybody’s going to come at you with their best,” he said.
ALABAMA STATE: A magical season has come to a crossroads. The Hornets still hold a half-game lead over Alabama A&M in the Eastern Division, but only A&M controls its own fate. ASU has to hope the Bulldogs lose between now and the end of the season. The Hornets travel to Arkansas-Pine Bluff this week — hardly a layup, even though 12 UAPB players are suspended. “We have to find a way to get a victory this weekend,” coach Reggie Barlow said.
GRAMBLING: Doug Williams gave a salute to Penn State coach Joe Paterno — who not only surpassed the late Eddie Robinson last week with a Division I record 409 victories, but praised Robinson on national TV, calling the Grambling legend a great friend. “I look at him and I look at coach (Robinson) the same way, as far as longevity,” Williams said. “And that doesn’t happen today, that coaches stay around so long. So I think we’ve all got to take our hat off to coach Paterno.”
PRAIRIE VIEW: The Panthers’ 44-14 loss against Jackson State was obviously ugly. “We ran into a team that was very much ready to play, a very motivated team,” coach Heishma Northern said. Still, not all is lost. Prairie View, which faces Texas State in nonconference play this week, still owns a half-game lead over three second-place teams. “I know this: If we win our next couple of SWAC games, we’ll end up being in Birmingham,” Northern said. Actually, the Panthers need UAPB to lose at least once more. But the point is well-taken: The West is certainly up for grabs.