Houston, TX – The Texas Southern Tigers are on the verge of making history. They beat Arkansas-Pine Bluff tonight, 20-13, to secure the SWAC Western Division Title. Now it’s off to Birmingham, Ala., to face Alabama State for the SWAC Championship.
“I’ve been a part of this for 28 years, and I knew that we always had great players,” said head coach Johnnie Cole. “I told our team that Texas Southern’s never had a great team. But this is a great team, and these kids deserve it. They sacrificed everything, and they did the things I asked them to do. And tonight we’re celebrating.”
Thousands of fans joined the celebration when they stormed the field for a second consecutive week. Winning has become the norm for the Tigers, who won their last seven games in the regular season. They also reached feats that previous TSU football teams have not accomplished in more than 10 years. One of those accomplishments was reached by Marcus Wright, who rushed for 134 yards on 26 carries and a touchdown. That gave Wright 1,089 yards for the season, which is the best since Thomas Seigh had 1,204 yards in 1998. Tonight also marked Wright’s sixth consecutive game rushing for more than 100 yards.
“That was one of my key goals at the beginning of the season,” Wright said. “Of course, competing for the SWAC Championship was first, but making 1,000 yards was a key goal, and I feel good about it.”
The highlight of the night was from the Tiger “212 degree” defense. TSU held Arkansas-Pine Bluff to 79 yards rushing and 224 yards in total offense. TSU senior linebacker Dejuan Fulghum led the team with 13 tackles (7 solo), a sack (13 yards), two tackles for loss (14 yards) and an interception return for 18 yards.
“It’s a great feeling,” Fulghum said. “We came out here and did what we were supposed to do. We were supposed to win this game. Now it’s time to go win that SWAC championship.”
Texas Southern scored first on a five-yard run by Wright in the first half. Tigers kicker Robert Hersh kicked field goals of 45 and 22 yards in the second quarter. TSU was up 13-0 entering the third quarter before Arkansas-Pine Bluff got on the board with a 9-yard pass from Josh Boudereaux to Torrence Shelton, Jr.
The Tigers responded to cap a seven-play, 45-yard drive with an 8-yard touchdown run by Martin Gilbert to give TSU a 20-7 lead with 1:40 left in the third quarter.
Arkansas-Pine Bluff got six off a TSU turnover, but the extra point was blocked by Jerome Thomas.
The Tigers missed a field goal opportunity with 2:47 left in the game when a bad snap forced holder Gino Simoni to run. UAPB got the ball and started a drive that put them on TSU’s 24-yard line with two plays and three yards away from a first down. The first pass was incomplete. On fourth down, the Tigers brought the heat, and TSU linebacker Shomari Clemons forced Boudreaux to throw a bad pass and turn the ball over on downs. TSU quarterback Arvell Nelson took a knee, and gave the TSU Tigers their first SWAC Championship bid since 1968.
Nelson finished the game with 166 passing yards, completing 14 of 20 passes and had 114 rushing yards. William Osborne had six catches for 72 yards, two punt returns for 31 yards and two kickoff returns for 36 yards.
Thomas had nine tackles (seven solo), two tackles for loss (11 yards), two breakups and a blocked kick. Clemons had eight tackles (three solo) and a quarterback hurry, and Marquis Jackson had four tackles, one for loss, and a sack, which marked his eighth of the season.