By Ron Wynn
The Tennessee State Tigers, the nation’s top-ranked HBCU team, overcame a slow start to post a 40-13 victory over Arkansas-Pine Bluff Saturday at LP Field. The win improved the Tigers’ record to 5-0, their best start since 2001. It also came before a crowd of 31,765, TSU’s largest LP Field gathering, and provided a fitting conclusion to the celebration of the school’s centennial.
The game offered more evidence of TSU’s exceptional defense, which again kept the opposition from scoring a second half touchdown. While the Tigers’ were exploding for 28 points, they limited Arkansas-Pine Bluff to a third-quarter 30-yard field goal at the 9:37 mark. Otherwise, the Golden Lions’ offense, which gave them an early 10-0 lead, was completely ineffective.
Arkansas-Pine Bluff had won two straight, and many in the crowd became a bit nervous when they put together a pair of early scoring drives. A 55-yard pass from QB Benjamin Anderson to Ladarius Underwood followed a 29-yard field goal. TSU’s first quarter offense was stagnant and unproductive.
But the game changed dramatically in the final three-quarters. TSU’s Michael German had a rough start, though he was victimized by three dropped passes. But though his final stats weren’t great, he made the most of repeated opportunities German finished with 18 completions in 35 attempts for 262 yards, plus a pair of fourth-quarter scores that sealed the rout. German had a final flurry, completing eight of his last 11 passes for 148 yards.
However the game’s star was running back Telvin Hooks. Despite not being a starter, Hooks has proven a highly capable rusher and key contributor to what’s become a potent rushing attack. Saturday, he provided more than just a spark off the bench. Hooks ignited the offense with a 15-yard touchdown run to open the second quarter. He later had another scoring run of two yards. Hooks led all rushers with 108 yards on only 14 carries, with the two touchdowns being the first of his TSU career, and the yardage total another personal high.
Starter Trabis Ward added 87 yards on 21 carries, with one touchdown. TSU gained 201 yards rushing, while holding the Golden Lions to 86 on 35 carries. Despite some uncharacteristic drops, tight end A.C. Leonard caught two passes for 48 yards, including the final touchdown reception of 42 yards. Travis James led TSU receivers with four catches for 95 yards.
What offense the Golden Eagles did get came from the tandem of Anderson to Eckwood. Eckwood finished with 117 receiving yards and a touchdown (five catches). Anderson was sacked three times and completed just 11 of 24 passes for 182 yards a touchdown. He also suffered two interceptions.
“Our defense was outstanding once more,” Coach Reed said afterwards on radio.”They continue to make big plays and get the ball back for the offense. We’re now moving into the real meat of our schedule. We’ve got six games left, and we’ve already equaled our win total from last year. But our team isn’t resting on anything. We’re still pushing ahead.”
TSU did a bit better in terms of penalties, getting eight for 75 yards. They had two turnovers, but had almost 500 yards of total offense (463) and dominated time of possession (32:32 to 27:28). The Tigers also got outstanding special teams contributions from their kickers. Other than a blocked extra point, they made field goals of 46 and 42 yards, and averaged 47.3 yards on four points. Perhaps the only other disappointing stat was in the return game. Thus far the explosiveness they enjoyed on both kickoffs and punt returns hasn’t been evident, in part because a lot of teams now aren’t kicking to Weldon Garlington. They only had 19 yards in total returns, but also held Arkansas-Pine bluff to 24.
The Tigers concluded an undefeated pre-conference schedule, and now turn their attention to the OVC race. Saturday they face Eastern Kentucky (2-0 OVC, 4-1 overall) for first place in the conference. They’ve also retained their number one rank atop the Boxtorow HBCU poll, and may even get some Top 25 votes (they were 28th and 27th in various polls last week).
“Eastern Kentucky will be a very tough team,” Reed concluded. The game will be at Hale Stadium and starts at 1 p.m.