Arkansas-Pine Bluff had to know what was coming. Namely, Marcus Wright.
Yet, the Golden Lions were helpless to stop the Texas Southern running back as he piled up 134 yards on the way to cliching a Western Division crown and TSU’s first-ever berth in the Southwestern Athletic Conference Championship Game. Wright, who notched a sixth consecutive game over the century mark, averaged 5.2 yards per attempt) in an eventual 20-13 victory.
Texas Southern (8-3, 8-1 SWAC) has gone an astonishing 8-1 since refocusing its offense on Wright. He’s now at 1,089 rushing yards on the year, the first TSU back to do that since Brent Wilson went for 1,032 five seasons ago.
“That was one of my key goals at the beginning of the season,” Wright said after the Arkansas-Pine Bluff game. “Of course, competing for the SWAC Championship was first, but getting over 1,000 yards is a key landmark, and I feel good right now.”
He should. Wright has run the Tigers all the way to Birmingham, Ala., where they will face Alabama State (7-3, 6-3) at Legion Field. There’s other history in play: Already, they’ve claimed the most conference wins in school history and the program’s best record since an 8-3 mark in 2000. Next up on Dec. 11 is a chance for Texas Southern’s first title since 1968 and its first-ever outright league championship.
First, they had to knock off the SWAC spoiler in UAPB.
[Johnnie Cole has made reviving Texas Southern a personal mission.]
A gritty rushing attack — Texas Southern also got 114 yards on the ground from quarterback Arvell Nelson — was once again bolstered by a series of impressive stands on defense. TSU held Arkansas-Pine Bluff (5-6, 4-5) to 244 total offensive yards, picked off two passes — and held on a critical fourth-down try as the Golden Lions made a furious attempt to force overtime. A team averaging 211.9 rushing yards per game got what it needed from Nelson in the air: He was 14-of-20 for 166 yards.
“I’ve been a part of this for 28 years, and I knew that we always had great players,” said coach Johnnie Cole, a TSU quarterback from 1982-85. “I told our team that Texas Southern’s never had a great team. But this is a great team, and these kids deserve it.”