Despite a disappointing loss at Alcorn State last weekend, the Prairie View football team still controls its own SWAC destiny.
But the Panthers have the monumental task of taking on the 13th-ranked Texas A&M Aggies of the SEC in a non-conference game – also known as a money game – on Saturday morning at Kyle Field. Then Prairie View will jump back into SWAC play where the Panthers will have a chance to lock up the West Division title against Mississippi Valley State in their regular-season finale.
The timing of having to jump out of SWAC play a game that will pad the athletic department budget (PV made $450,000 to up Highway 6 and take a 67-0 beating against the Aggies in 2016) isn’t ideal for coach Eric Dooley and his players, but it’s the task they have been handed.
“It’s like is it’s kind of mind-boggling,” Dooley said to The Defender this week. “You understand, if I had had it my way, this game would have been in September. But unfortunately, this is how the schedule falls. I don’t complain, I just try to find a solution. We’ve just got to prepare.
“These young men have aspirations of playing on the next level and these are the type of individuals you are going to play against. So now you get to measure up against guys who quote, unquote, is supposed to be a larger institution but I feel good about our guys. I know how we compete. We are going to compete for 60 minutes.”
The timing of this game is tricky because of what is still in front of the 7-2 overall and 6-1 SWAC-leading Panthers. Their 31-21 loss at Alcorn State on Saturday puts the 6-4, 5-2 Braves in play for the SWAC West title and a chance to face Jackson State in the SWAC Championship Game.
Alcorn State and Jackson State face each other in Saturday’s regular-season finale and should the Braves prevail then it will be a waiting game the PV-Mississippi Valley State game next. If the Panthers win against the Delta Devils then they lock up the West, but a loss leaves them tied with the Braves, who own the tiebreaker.
The Panthers could win the division Saturday should the Braves lose to the Tigers in their cross-division matchup.
“The mindset is good,” said Dooley, whose team saw its six-game winning streak come to an end Saturday. “Everything that we set out for is still in front of us. We still control that. It’s not that we have to sit back and hope something takes place, it’s still in our hands. We understand that we can still accomplish our goals. We’ve just got to go a different route.
“Sometimes you drive down Interstate 10 and you’ve got a roadblock and you’ve got to change and you have to detour or go another direction. That’s what we are taking from this here, we’ve got to go another direction to get to where we want to get to.”
Given the potential importance of next week’s SWAC finale, Dooley could choose to protect his starters and key players by limiting their exposure against the Power 5 conference school that is loaded on offense and defense. Dooley wouldn’t exactly say he will deploy his players like quarterback Jawon Pass but it sounds like if the score gets out of hand, he may start to pull back on key players.
“We still have that same philosophy of work smart, so you have to play smart,” he said. “We understand that and we understand what we need to do and how we are going to prepare. But we are never going to not give ourselves a chance at anything. We are always going to compete. I’m a competitive person. It doesn’t matter what it is. If you and I are just walking on the street together, I’m going to compete against you because I want to beat you. That’s the bottom line.
“We are going to compete, we are going to represent Prairie View A&M University, the Southwestern Athletic Conference, but also we are going to be smart.”
Dooley also views the game against the Aggies as a great opportunity for his players, given the stage and the opponent.
“I always tell the guys you’ve got to seize that moment,” Dooley said. “You’ve got an opportunity, you’ve got to seize the moment and understand what you are trying to do. I’ve just been a big proponent of the Southwestern Athletic Conference. We have got to make sure we represent our conference well. And that’s what we are going to set out to do.”