Prairie View wins SWAC championship
11 years after record-setting losing streak, the Panthers win their first title in 45 years.
By Lut Williams
The remarkable rise of Prairie View A&M from football pit to pinnacle was all but completed Saturday as the Panthers survived a determined effort and nip-and-tuck battle with Alabama A&M to score a 30-24 win over the Bulldogs in the 11th SWAC Championship game Saturday afternoon at Birmingham’s Legion Field.
In a game filled with penalties, big plays, big-play reviews and plenty of drama, it was the West Division champion Panthers (9-1) that prevailed behind the play of SWAC regular season and championship game offensive MVP, quarterback K.J. Black.
The junior transfer completed 18 of 28 passes on the day for 258 yards, no interceptions and three touchdowns, two in the fourth quarter that allowed the Panthers to take a lead they would not surrender. Prior to his two late-game TD tosses, the teams traded the lead seven times while giving both sides in a crowd of 20,218 plenty to cheer.
The most critical stretch of the game came with 10:09 left in the fourth quarter after Prarire View had gone ahead 23-21 on Black’s 23-yard scoring toss to Gabe Osaze-Ediae. Four plays after the ensuing kickoff, AA&M quarterback Deauntae Mason was hit by Prairie View defensive back Anthony Beck and fumbled. Prairie View defensive end Quentin Spears recovered on the A&M 47.
Five plays later, Black hit Anthony Weeden on a 22-yard TD pass. Brady Faggard’s PAT gave Prairie View its largest lead of the day and some breathing room at 30-21 with 7:01 left. It was the first time either team led by more than one score.
East Division champion Alabama A&M would drive for a late field goal, a 33-yarder from place kicker Jeremy Licea to cut the lead to 30-24 with 4:02 to play. But the Bulldogs (7-5), who used all three of their second-half timeouts in the third quarter, could not stop the clock after they kicked off.
Prairie View earned one first down and then punted with less than15 seconds to play. But the punt also had drama as A&M return man Thomas Harris momentarily broke free for 26 yards on the right side of the field and had one man to beat. That man, back-up running back Michael Jason, made perhaps a game-saving tackle, stopping Harris at the Prairie View 47. Mason’s desperation pass attempt at the final buzzer was knocked down.
Prairie View head coach Henry Frazier III, who inherited the Panther program in 2004 on the heels of an embarrassing and record-setting 80-game losing streak (1989-98) that marked them as the worst program in college football, was understandably jubilant after his Panthers won the school’s first SWAC title in 45 years.
“The champ is here, the champ is here,” Frazier said as he entered the post game interview room with a host of celebratory family, friends and players and two championships trophies in tow. “It’s been a long time coming. 1964 is the last time Prairie View was champion. Forty-five years later, God saw fit to bring a group of coaches and group of players together to make history. In 1964, nobody on the (coaching) staff, nobody on this team was born. This is a special time and a special occasion.”
Prairie View was led on the ground by Donald Babers, who tallied 78 yards on 17 carries. Osaze-Ediae had 7 receptions for 106 yards. Alabama A&M out-gained Prairie View 403 to 375. Spears, who had two fumble recoveries and tied for the team lead in tackles with 6, was named the game’s defensive MVP.