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Pine Bluff scored 22 unanswered points to pull off the win after trailing by 24 points at halftime.
If giving up or no longer exerting maximum effort is ever understandable, Arkansas-Pine Bluff might’ve been in that position Saturday in the final game this year.
The Golden Lions were on the road, trailing by 24 points at halftime, with dim prospects for their second victory overall and their first in the Southwestern Athletic Conference.
But instead of packing it in, UAPB poured it on. Quarterback Mekhi Hagens ran for two fourth-quarter touchdowns, and special teams contributed a touchdown for a stunning 35-34 victory against Texas Southern at Shell Energy Stadium in Houston. The Lions scored 22 points in the final 12 minutes to complete the surprising finish. UAPB finished the season 2-9 overall, 1-7 in the SWAC.
“It didn’t start the way we wanted it, but I’ve been telling the kids all year we just gotta stay in the fight and don’t break,” UAPB first-year head coach Alonzo Hampton told reporters. “It was so good to see so many guys go in and play that we really weren’t counting on, just to step up and make the plays.”
Pine Bluff hadn’t scored more than 24 points in a game all season, topping 14 points just three times. Texas Southern led, 21-0, entering the second quarter. After UAPB halfback Johnny Williams’ 1-yard touchdown, the Tigers added two more scores – including a 96-yard fumble return by safety Canary Simmons –  for a 31-7 lead at the half.
The comeback began with a quick drive late in the third quarter. Halfback Micha Jamerson broke loose for a 70-yard run, and Hagens threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to wideout Kenji Lewis. Pine Bluff narrowed the gap to 34-21 early in the fourth quarter, on Hagens’ 4-yard run and 2-point conversion run.
Special teams and defense came through for the next decisive plays. Defensive end Elijah Jenkins scored on a return when wideout Cameron Roetherford blocked a punt, making the score 34-28 with around five minutes left. On the next drive, defensive back Grant Ewell Jr. forced Owens to fumble, setting up the Lions at Texas Southern’s 46-yard line. Hagens’ third touchdown and Dean Harris’ point-after kick put Pine Bluff ahead with 1:46 left, to complete a shocking reversal of fortune. 
Facing the large deficit, Hampton knew what to say at halftime because he’s had plenty of practice.
“I stood up there like every halftime meeting and said the exact same thing, like I truly believe,” he said. “I’ve been telling them to just keep fighting, keep fighting. What you saw tonight has been 10 games of just keep fighting.”
Texas Southern might’ve thought the contest was over, as the offense didn’t answer the bell after intermission.
The Tigers opened the game with three long drives, covering 75, 71, and 64 yards, capped by halfback LaDarius Owens’ touchdown runs covering 3, 2, and 30 yards. But they mustered a meager 48 yards of total offense in the second half.
“It wasn’t an adjustment that they made,” fifth-year head coach Clarence McKinney told reporters afterward. “It was our lack of intensity. So offensively, we didn’t come out with the same intensity that we started the game. It’s hard just to turn the switch on and play at a certain level. You’ve got to have that mindset, that mentality, once the game starts throughout the game, and to finish the game. We had it at the start of the game. We didn’t continue to have a killer instinct during the game, nor did we finish the game.”
Texas Southern finished 3-8 overall, 2-6 in the SWAC, in McKinney’s last season under contract. Before the game, athletic director Kevin Granger dismissed reports that McKinney was a goner, stating, “we have not made a decision, and will make a determination after the season.”  Granger reportedly met with several football players last week to discuss the program’s future, which commenced with Saturday’s ugly collapse, perhaps McKinney’s final chapter.
“I appreciate this opportunity,” McKinney said. “I don’t take for granted being the head coach of the Texas Southern University Tigers. Growing up in the neighborhood, always hearing the band as a kid, coming over and playing on the field during those times, and playing a little tackle football. It’s a special moment for me to be the head coach at TSU.”
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