Archive for the ‘College football’ Category

Coach Broyles

Monday, August 14th, 2017

Frank Broyles wasn’t born and raised in Arkansas.

He hailed from Decatur, Ga., and his rich Southern accent was never replaced by an Arkansas twang. Yet he was one of us. Indeed, he was the best of us.

He moved to Fayetteville following just one season as the head coach at the University of Missouri.

Orville Henry wrote in the Arkansas Gazette the day after Broyles’ Dec. 7, 1957, hiring at the University of Arkansas: “Frank Broyles is the fastest walking, thinking, talking Southern boy I’ve ever run across, in or out of football. He charms the uninitiated with his complete candor and confidence and the rippling softness of his Dixie accent. And he possesses the pigskin technicians with the inside-outside mastery of his subject matter, which is basic football in general and the T formation attack in the specific. As of this hour, he embodies every answer to John Barnhill’s prayer.”

Barnhill, the Arkansas athletic director at the time, told Henry: “Frank is the only man from the outside who could come in and pull us all together toward what we’re after. We’ve lost no ground in the last three years, and we’re in good shape. Within a month I believe we’ll be a lot better than we were.”

Barnhill added: “Broyles convinced me that he wants to come to Arkansas and stay.”

Stay he did, for the next six decades.

National news had been dominated in that fall of 1957 by the Little Rock Central High School desegregation crisis. That didn’t deter Broyles, who always would refer to the Arkansas coaching position as his dream job.

The desegregation crisis made Arkansas the subject of derision in other parts of the country. Arkansans had both a strong pride in the place they called home and a glaring inferiority complex.

Though Broyles wasn’t from here, he understood us.

He pledged his allegiance to Arkansas and never left.

It didn’t take Broyles long to build a football powerhouse. John Barnhill’s instincts had been correct.

As least among college football fans, Gov. Orval Faubus wasn’t the only well-known personality in Arkansas. We had Broyles, his shirttail flapping as he paced the sidelines on those glorious fall afternoons.

College Football News once ranked the top college football programs for the 1960s. The ranking was based on Associated Press polls. Alabama (coached by a native Arkansan, Paul “Bear” Bryant) was first in that decade. Arkansas and Texas were tied for second.

I was born in September 1959. Frank Broyles was the only Razorback football coach I knew until high school. Arkansas won several versions of the national championship in 1964, but that was the year my 9-year-old brother was killed in an accident. So the few memories I have of that year are of family tragedy, not college football.

The next year was different. I clearly remember that at the end of the 1965 season, as the Razorback winning streak reached 22 games, my parents announced that they would take my older sister and me to Dallas to see Arkansas tangle with LSU in the Cotton Bowl.

I remember the trip down U.S. Highway 67 from our Arkadelphia home to Dallas. I remember the stop at The Alps restaurant in Mt. Pleasant, Texas, for lunch. I remember staying in downtown Dallas at the Baker Hotel.

And I remember wanting to see Frank Broyles in person, which I finally did.

I got into trouble with my father on that trip when I refused to shake the hand of the LSU head coach, Charlie McClendon. McClendon was from south Arkansas (Lewisville to be exact) and knew my father. McClendon’s brother, Bill, and my dad hunted quail together.

But to a 6-year-old, he was the enemy because he coached the hated purple-and-gold Tigers.

LSU upset Arkansas on Jan. 1, 1966, ending the 22-game winning streak. I cried in the cab on the way from Fair Park back to the Baker Hotel.

With victory having proved elusive, the highlight of the trip for me was having seen Broyles at the hotel.

You could tell by looking at him that he had once been a great athlete. He was a star quarterback at Georgia Tech, where he played for Bobby Dodd and led the Yellowjackets to three bowl games. He started his coaching career as an assistant at Baylor in 1947, but Dodd soon brought him back to Atlanta where Broyles served as the head coach’s right-hand man for a decade. Many Southern football fans felt that Broyles would hang around until Dodd retired and then become the Georgia Tech head coach.

Broyles was restless, however. He wanted to lead his own program and try out his own ideas. He took the Missouri job.

Arkansas, though, was the place where he really saw potential. His vision, in fact, went beyond the football field. He once told me that the smartest move the university made in his early years there was when it offered broadcasts of Razorback games free to any radio station in the state that wanted them. Prior to that, a number of people in west Arkansas followed Oklahoma football, a number of people in south Arkansas followed LSU football and a number of people in east Arkansas followed Ole Miss football. Having one of the largest radio networks in the country united the state.

Broyles continued to make us proud on the national stage after retiring from coaching following the 1975 season. Broyles and play-by-play man Keith Jackson of ABC Sports became the best college football crew on television.

Broyles also proved to be as savvy as an athletic director as he had been as a football coach, raising millions of dollars to improve athletic facilities for multiple sports and moving Arkansas from the Southwest Conference to the Southeastern Conference in the early 1990s.

No wonder the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette named him Arkansas’ most influential sports figure of the 20th century.

No wonder David Bazzel created the Broyles Award to honor the top college assistant coach in the country. Think of those who played and/or coached under Broyles — Barry Switzer, Jimmy Johnson, Joe Gibbs, Johnny Majors and on and on.

Still, Broyles’ most important accomplishment was that he made us proud to be from Arkansas at a time when we most needed it.

Finally Winthrop Rockefeller became governor in January 1967 after 12 years of Faubus.

Johnny Cash and Glen Campbell hit it big on the national stage.

And Frank Broyles’ Razorbacks kept winning football games — lots of them.

Even though the end result was an excruciating 15-14 loss to the hated Longhorns, we were proud that what was known as the Game of the Century was played on Arkansas soil in 1969. I was 10 years old and still recall that gray December afternoon.

As a state at that time, we were just more than decade removed from the embarrassment of 1957. Arkansas also had lost the highest percentage of population of any state from 1940-60.

Frank Broyles helped us to believe in ourselves again.

I didn’t fully understand that at age 10.

I do now.

He was a giant in his field. Yes, he was born in Georgia. But he became one of us and was never ashamed to be known as an Arkansan.

Thank you, Coach Broyles. You were the right man at the right time for Arkansas.

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College football: Week 14

Tuesday, November 29th, 2016

It’s rare for me to pick all of the Arkansas teams to win on the same weekend.

You have to realize that my prediction post each week has nothing to do with the teams I want to win. The posts have everything to do with the teams I think will win.

I wanted Arkansas and Arkansas State to win.

In this case, I also was confident that they would win.

After all, Arkansas was taking on a 3-8 Missouri team that had just given up 63 points to a mediocre Tennessee squad (which would proceed to lose to Vanderbilt), and Arkansas State was taking its 15-game Sun Belt Conference winning streak up against a Louisiana-Lafayette team that came in with a 4-6 record.

The Hogs and Red Wolves laid eggs.

The Razorback performance was so bad that it has fans across the state questioning the direction of the program while calling for staff changes.

Arkansas State, meanwhile, blew an excellent opportunity for an outright conference title. Now the Red Wolves will wind up sharing the title with Appalachian State (which has completed conference play) if ASU wins at Texas State on Saturday. If Troy also wins on Saturday, it will be a three-way tie for the title.

At least Harding and UCA came through for us in the playoffs as both teams posted wild fourth-quarter comebacks.

That made the record 2-2 for the week and 72-26 for the season.

Here are the picks for this week:

Arkansas State 41, Texas State 29 — The Red Wolves appeared to have won the game at Lafayette on the final play. One official signaled touchdown, causing everyone on the ASU sideline to rush the field. After a review, it was ruled that quarterback Justice Hansen’s knee had touched the ground just before he pitched the ball to an offensive tackle who ran it into the end zone. Blake Anderson, the ASU head coach, still disagrees with that call. The fact remains that the Red Wolves are 6-5 overall and 6-1 in the Sun Belt. Appalachian State and Troy also have just one loss in conference play. Arkansas State should come away with a win this Saturday. The night game will be telecast nationally from San Marcos by ESPN2. Texas State is 0-7 in conference play and 2-9 overall. The wins were over Ohio in overtime, 56-54, in the season opener and over Incarnate Word, an FCS school, by a final score of 48-17. Few of the losses have been close — 42-3 to Arkansas, 64-3 to Houston, 41-21 to Georgia State, 40-34 to Louisiana-Monroe, 27-3 to Louisiana-Lafayette, 35-10 to Appalachian State, 47-14 to Idaho, 50-10 to New Mexico State and 40-7 to Troy.

Eastern Washington 34, UCA 24 — It was quite a comeback for the Bears on the stripes in Conway on a cold Saturday afternoon. UCA was lethargic for three quarters of the FCS playoff game, trailing a 6-5 Illinois State squad by a score of 17-7 going into the final 15 minutes of play. A blocked punt for a touchdown fueled a comeback that ended with a four-yard scoring run by senior Antwon Wells with 1:28 left in the game. The Bears improved to 10-2 with the victory. They must now make the long trip to Eastern Washington to play on the red turf against a 10-1 team that had a bye last week. Eastern Washington’s only loss was to powerhouse North Dakota State, 50-44. Eastern Washington won nonconference games by scores of 45-42 against a good Washington State team that finished the regular season 8-4 and 34-30 against Northern Iowa from the Missouri Valley Conference. The Eagles then went 8-0 in the Big Sky Conference with victories of 50-35 over Northern Arizona, 63-30 over California-Davis, 49-31 over Northern Colorado, 41-17 over Montana State, 35-16 over Montana, 42-21 over Cal Poly, 48-17 over Idaho State and 35-28 over Portland State.

Northwest Missouri State 31, Harding 21 — It has been a remarkable final campaign for Harding head coach Ronnie Huckeba, who announced before the season that he would retire at the end of this year. The Bisons appeared down and out against Sioux Falls in South Dakota last Saturday afternoon, trailing by 10 points with less than five minutes remaining. Harding scored a touchdown with 4:17 left. A 47-yard field goal by Tristan Parsley with 12 seconds remaining in regulation (11 yards longer than anything he had kicked during the regular season) sent the game to overtime. The Harding defense then came up with an interception in overtime, and Parsley won it with a 35-yard field goal. The 13-0 Bisons became the first Great American Conference team to win a second-round game in the NCAA Division II playoffs. The bad news is that they now must visit the No. 1 team in the country, the defending national champions from Northwest Missouri State. Northwest Missouri, which is 12-0, defeated No. 9 Emporia State, 44-13, in last week’s playoff game. Last year, Northwest Missouri routed Shepherd by a final score of 34-7 in the national championship game to cap a 15-0 campaign. The Bearcats went 15-0 in 2013 to win the national title and also won titles in 2009 with a 14-1 record, in 1999 with a 14-1 record and in 1998 with a 15-0 record. Northwest Missouri advanced to the championship game in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008 and lost each time. But it’s pretty impressive that this program has had teams in nine of the past 18 title games.


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College football: Week 13

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2016

What a night it was in Starkville for the Arkansas offense.

The Razorbacks gained 661 yards, the fourth-highest total in school history. Arkansas never punted in a 58-42 victory over Mississippi State.

Rawleigh Williams ran for a career-high 205 yards and four touchdowns. He also threw a touchdown pass.

Austin Allen was 18 of 25 passing for 303 yards and two touchdowns as Arkansas ended a four-game losing streak against the Bulldogs.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that the Arkansas defense gave up a whopping 533 yards. It was the second consecutive year for these teams to combine for 100 points or more.

A 7-4 Arkansas team heads north to Missouri on Friday for what should be another high-scoring game. Those of you who have the day off can do what I plan to do — kick back with the leftover turkey and dressing and watch CBS.

We were 4-1 on the picks last week. That makes the season record 70-24.

Here are the picks for Week 13:

Arkansas 49, Missouri 31 — Mizzou has an awful defense and an offense that can score points. Tennessee beat Missouri by a final score of 63-37 last Saturday in Knoxville. For the first time since 1995, a Tennessee team has scored more than 40 points in three consecutive games. Joshua Dobbs passed for 223 yards and rushed for 190 yards against the Tigers. You can expect Austin Allen to have similar success for Arkansas on Friday. But get this: The Vols gave up 740 yards, the most yards ever allowed by a Tennessee team. Even though Missouri is just 3-8 overall and 1-6 in Southeastern Conference play, the Tigers have gained more than 600 yards four times this season. Look for the Razorbacks to give up a lot of points. Also expect the Hogs to score far more than that en route to an 8-4 record to end the regular season.

Arkansas State 40, Louisiana-Lafayette 32 — The Red Wolves just keep winning conference games. They find themselves alone atop the Sun Belt Conference standings after dismantling Troy on Thursday night of last week by a final score of 35-3. Troy had come into the game with an 8-1 record, having narrowly lost to Clemson. The Trojans were the first Sun Belt team to be ranked in The Associated Press poll. But an ASU team that has now won 15 consecutive conference games improved to 6-4 overall after having gone 0-4 in nonconference play. Arkansas State led just 7-3 at the half but poured it on during the final two quarters. The Red Wolves will find themselves in the Cajun country of southwestern Louisiana on Saturday against a Louisiana-Lafayette team that’s 4-6 overall and 3-3 in conference play. The wins have come by scores of 30-22 over McNeese State, 28-23 over South Alabama. 27-3 over Texas State and 33-26 over Georgia Southern. The losses have been by scores of 45-10 to Boise State, 41-39 in four overtimes to Tulane, 37-31 in two overtimes to New Mexico State, 24-0 to Appalachian State, 32-13 to Idaho and 35-21 to Georgia. If ASU can get by this one, it should be on its way to an undisputed conference championship since the final opponent (Texas State on Dec. 3) is just 2-8 overall and 0-6 in conference play.

UCA 29, Illinois State 27 — It was for the championship of the Southland Conference, but the game in Huntsville, Texas, last Saturday afternoon wasn’t even close. Sam Houston State took advantage of five UCA turnovers en route to a 59-23 victory over the Bears. Sam Houston’s Jeremiah Briscoe threw seven touchdown passes. It was the first time in 28 years for two teams that were undefeated in Southland Conference play to battle each other on the final Saturday of the regular season. Sam Houston finished the regular season 11-0 overall and 9-0 in conference play. The Bears are 9-2 overall and 8-1 in the conference with a home game against Illinois State on Saturday afternoon in Conway in the first round of the FCS playoffs. Illinois State is just 6-5 overall but earned a spot in the playoff field by winning its final three games against South Dakota State, Western Illinois and Missouri State. The final scores of the six victories were 50-13 over Valparaiso, 9-7 over Northwestern from the Big Ten, 31-28 over Southern Illinois, 38-21 over South Dakota State, 31-26 over Western Illinois and 37-0 over Missouri State. The losses were by scores of 24-21 to Eastern Illinois, 34-31 to Indiana State, 31-10 to North Dakota State, 20-6 to Youngstown State and 27-24 to South Dakota. Even though Illinois State is coming off a big win and UCA is coming off a big loss, we’ll give a slight edge to the home team.

Harding 34, Sioux Falls 30 — The Bisons advanced to the second round of the NCAA Division II playoffs with a 48-31 win over Central Missouri State in Searcy last Saturday afternoon. It now will be a battle of undefeated teams on what might be a frozen tundra in South Dakota this Saturday as 12-0 Harding goes against 12-0 Sioux Falls. In the win over 9-3 Central Missouri, Harding senior quarterback Park Parish from Clinton rushed for 118 yards and passed for a season-high 173 yards. Harding had 528 total yards, including 355 yards rushing. A Harding team advances to the second round for the first time after having lost in the first round of the playoffs in 2012 and 2014. Harding has won all but one game by 15 points or more (that one close game was a 24-20 victory over Ouachita in Searcy on Oct. 1). Sioux Falls has won all but one game by 10 points or more (the one close game was a 37-36 victory over Bemidji State on Sept. 24). In the first round of the playoffs last year, Sioux Falls fell to Henderson, 23-16. We’ll go out on a limb and say that Arkansas schools make it two in a row over Sioux Falls.

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College football: Week 12

Tuesday, November 15th, 2016

The Dallas Cowboys are glad they have Dak Prescott.

The Mississippi State Bulldogs wish they still did.

The Bulldogs have struggled to a 4-6 record this season. They need to beat Arkansas in Starkville on Saturday night and then turn around and down Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl just to qualify for a low-level bowl game. Mississippi State has been to bowl games the past six seasons.

Mississippi State’s stunning 21-20 loss to South Alabama from the Sun Belt Conference back on Sept. 3 was a sign of things to come.

The Bulldogs did manage to win their Southeastern Conference opener against a weak South Carolina club, 27-14. That was followed by a 23-20 loss to LSU, a 47-35 nonconference victory over Massachusetts, a 38-14 loss to Auburn, a 28-21 overtime loss to BYU, a 40-38 loss to Kentucky, a 56-41 nonconference victory over Samford, a 35-28 upset victory over Texas A&M and a 51-3 loss to Alabama.

The win over the Aggies (now fading quickly following that fourth-quarter collapse against Ole Miss at College Station last Saturday) did prove that Mississippi State can still be tough at Starkville. And Arkansas teams often struggle in the land of cowbells.

I was 6-1 on the picks last week, missing only the Battle of the Ravine pick (and I’m glad I did predict that one incorrectly). That makes the record 66-23 for the season.

Let’s get to the predictions for Week 12:

Arkansas 30, Mississippi State 28 — I’ve been writing about how inconsistent this Arkansas team is. But I’m about to change my mind and say instead that the Razorbacks are pretty consistent — consistently bad against SEC West opponents. Yes, there was the close win at home over Ole Miss. Arkansas was blown out by its other four SEC West foes — Texas A&M, Alabama, Auburn and LSU. The Razorbacks fell to 6-4 overall and 2-4 in the SEC with Saturday’s 38-10 loss to LSU. The Tigers outgained the Hogs 547-291. Arkansas gave up 390 yards rushing while its offense generated only 81 yards on the ground. There was nothing competitive about this game as LSU jumped to a 21-0 lead. Derrius Guice rushed for 252 yards and two touchdowns for the Bayou Bengals. That’s the second most yards ever by an LSU running back. Guice’s 96-yard touchdown run was the longest play from scrimmage ever at LSU. It should be a competitive game this Saturday in Starkville between two teams that find themselves at the bottom of the SEC West.

Troy 24, Arkansas State 21 — It’s the game of the year in the Sun Belt Conference, and it’s on national television Thursday night. Arkansas State went 0-4 in nonconference play but has run off five consecutive conference victories. The Red Wolves moved to 5-0 in the Sun Belt on Saturday afternoon with a 41-22 conquest of New Mexico State in Jonesboro. Troy is No. 25 this week in The Associated Press poll, the first time for the conference to have a ranked team. Troy won or shared Sun Belt titles each season from 2006-10 before falling on hard times. Veteran head coach Larry Blakeney retired, and Neal Brown took over, instituting a pass-happy spread offense. Brown’s team went 4-8 last year in his first season as head coach. The Trojans are 8-1 overall and 5-0 in conference play thus far this season. The one loss was at Clemson, and it was a close one — 30-24. The victories have been by scores of 57-17 over Austin Peay, 37-31 over Southern Mississippi, 52-6 over New Mexico State, 34-13 over Idaho, 31-21 over Georgia State, 28-21 over South Alabama, 52-31 over Massachusetts and 28-24 over Appalachian State. The slight edge goes to the home team.

Sam Houston State 39, UCA 29 — It’s the game of the year thus far in the FCS. Sam Houston State is ranked No. 1 nationally with a record of 10-0 overall and 8-0 in the Southland Conference. UCA is ranked No. 12 with a record of 9-1 overall and 8-0 in the Southland Conference. The Bears escaped with a 31-24 victory over Nicholls State last Saturday afternoon in Conway. It was close throughout as UCA led 10-7 at halftime and 17-14 at the end of the third quarter. Nicholls led 21-17 early in the fourth quarter. The Bears will have to play much better to have a chance on Saturday afternoon in Huntsville. The Bearkats’ 10 victories have come by scores of 59-21 over Panhandle State, 44-31 over Lamar, 52-16 over Houston Baptist, 63-28 over Stephen F. Austin, 63-48 over Incarnate Word, 48-21 over Abilene Christian, 38-21 over Nicholls State, 66-17 over Texas Southern, 56-43 over McNeese State and 48-16 over Northwestern State.

Prairie View A&M 31, UAPB 10 — UAPB lost its seventh consecutive game Saturday to fall to 1-9 overall and 1-7 in the SWAC. The loss this time was to Texas Southern in Houston by a final score of 27-10. The long, long season comes to a merciful end in Pine Bluff this Saturday afternoon against a Prairie View A&M team that comes to town with a 6-4 record overall and a 6-2 mark in SWAC play. The losses have been by scores of 67-0 to Texas A&M, 36-16 to Grambling, 65-44 to Rice and 44-34 to Southern University. The wins have been by scores of 29-25 over Texas Southern, 41-20 over Alabama A&M, 56-21 over Mississippi Valley State, 24-17 over Alabama State, 28-14 over Jackson State and 31-27 over Alcorn State. The Golden Lions likely won’t provide much of a challenge Saturday.

Harding 34, Central Missouri 33 — Harding wrapped up its first 11-0 regular season in school history with a 42-7 victory over 6-5 Arkansas Tech in Searcy on Saturday afternoon. The Bisons, the leading rushing team in NCAA Division II, had 425 yards on the ground against the Wonder Boys. Harding’s defense limited Tech to 85 total yards. Ronnie Huckeba is retiring as Harding’s head coach at the end of this season and would like to extend his career by at least another week. Harding will host a playoff game for the first time beginning at 1 p.m. Saturday against 9-2 Central Missouri State. Harding has made the playoffs twice before, but lost on the road in the first round in 2012 and 2014. Central Missouri finished third in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association with a 9-2 record. The losses came by scores of 37-31 in two overtimes to Emporia State and 42-17 to No. 1 Northwest Missouri State. Central Missouri won its final six games and only one of them was close — 36-16 over Nebraska-Kearney, 56-7 over Missouri Southern, 29-27 over Washburn, 48-28 over Central Oklahoma, 59-21 over Northeastern Oklahoma and 35-7 over Lindenwood. Harding has only had one close game this season– a 24-20 win over Ouachita in Searcy on Oct. 1. Harding trailed in the fourth quarter of that game. The other 10 victories were by 15 or more points.

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College football: Week 11

Tuesday, November 8th, 2016

These Hogs are hard to figure out, aren’t they?

I picked them to beat Auburn, and they were blown out.

So I picked them to lose to Florida, and they blew out the Gators.


Who knows.

Finally, though, a Razorback team defeated a Gator team in a Southeastern Conference game.

Arkansas’ 31-10 victory in Fayetteville last Saturday afternoon made the Hogs bowl eligible at 6-3, though they still have a losing record (2-3) in conference play.

It was a good day for Rawleigh Williams, who gained 148 yards on 26 carries. Williams now has 955 yards rushing on the season.

It also was a good day for Drew Morgan, who had seven receptions for 95 yards. Morgan has now caught passes in 23 consecutive games.

Williams and Morgan will need to have good games again in order for the Hogs to make it two consecutive SEC victories this Saturday.

Arkansas outgained the Gators 466-241 and led 39:21 to 20:39 in time of possession.

Two weeks after giving up 543 rushing yards to Auburn, the Hogs held Florida to just 12 rushing yards. I don’t think I ever remember that kind of turnaround.

Florida took just one snap in Arkansas territory in the first half. The Gators converted only one of 11 third-down plays.

Arkansas finished with 223 yards on the ground.

So the Hogs are now 2-9 against Florida, the previous victory having come by a score of 28-24 in the 1982 Bluebonnet Bowl at Houston.

Other than picking the Razorback game incorrectly, we had a fine week. We were 8-2 on the picks, making the record 60-22 for the season.

Here are the predictions for Week 11:

LSU 24, Arkansas 22 — The LSU defense played well in a 10-0 loss to No. 1 Alabama last Saturday night at Baton Rouge. But the Tiger offense wouldn’t have scored against the Tide in 12 quarters of play. Alabama outgained LSU 323-125 as Crimson Tide quarterback Jalen Hurts had 114 yards rushing on 20 carries and the game’s only touchdown. LSU’s Leonard Fournette was shut down by the Alabama defense for a second consecutive year. Last year, he had 31 yards on 19 carries. This year, Fournette had 35 yards on 17 carries. It’s likely he will do much better against Arkansas. Les Miles was fired as the LSU head coach after four games. In those first four contests, the Tigers beat Jacksonville State, 34-13, and Mississippi State, 23-20. They lost 16-14 to Wisconsin and 18-13 to Auburn. Interim coach Ed Orgeron saw his team run off three consecutive victories — 42-7 over Missouri, 45-10 over Southern Mississippi and 38-21 over Ole Miss — before the loss to Alabama. The Tigers appear to be playing much harder for Orgeron than they were playing for Miles. This has the makings of a fun game in Fayetteville on Saturday night.

Arkansas State 31, New Mexico State 21 — The Red Wolves posted a 31-16 victory over Georgia State on Thursday night of last week in an empty Georgia Dome at Atlanta. Based on how it looked on television, there couldn’t have been 1,000 people there. It was the fourth consecutive Sun Belt Conference win for a team that went 0-4 in its nonconference games. ASU has now won 13 consecutive conference games, and that streak should continue this Saturday afternoon in Jonesboro against New Mexico State. The Red Wolves had two special team scores in last week’s victory. Blaise Taylor returned a punt 68 yards, and Chris Humes returned a blocked field goal 57 yards. New Mexico State is 2-6 overall and 1-3 in conference play. The wins have been by scores of 32-31 over New Mexico and 37-31 over Louisiana-Lafayette. The losses have come by scores of 38-22 to UTEP, 62-42 to Kentucky, 52-6 to Troy, 55-23 to Idaho, 22-19 to Georgia Southern and 52-10 to Texas A&M.

UCA 29, Nicholls State 20 — The Bears improved to 8-1 overall and 7-0 in Southland Conference play with a convincing 34-14 win at Stephen F. Austin, a team coach by former UCA head man Clint Conque. The Lumberjacks fell to 4-5 overall and 3-4 in the conference. Stephen F. Austin’s final score of the game came with 14:56 remaining in the first half. The Bears, who get better each week, outgained the Lumberjacks 502-321. If the Bears can avoid an upset loss to Nicholls State on Saturday afternoon in Conway, the stage will be set for the game of the year in the FCS when UCA visits No. 1 Sam Houston State on Nov. 19 with the Southland Conference championship on the line. The Bears must not get caught looking ahead. Nicholls rolls in with records of 5-4 overall and 5-2 in conference play. The wins were by scores of 35-28 over Incarnate Word, 35-28 over Stephen F. Austin, 33-20 over Houston Baptist, 31-14 over Northwestern State and 35-10 over Lamar. The losses were by scores of 26-24 to Georgia (a game Nicholls State had an excellent chance to win in Athens), 41-40 to South Alabama, 38-13 to McNeese State and 38-21 to Sam Houston State.

Texas Southern 40, UAPB 19 — Things continue to go south for the Golden Lions, who are now 1-8 overall and 1-6 in the SWAC. An 0-8 Mississippi Valley State team came to Pine Bluff last Saturday and went back across the big river with a 41-7 victory. The announced attendance was only 1,347. It was the first time for a Monte Coleman-coached team to lose to a Mississippi Valley State squad. The Delta Devils came into the game with 85 yards rushing for the season (that’s right, for the season) and gained 161 yards against UAPB. There’s no reason at this point to believe that the Golden Lions can be competitive at Texas Southern on Saturday despite the fact that the host team is just 3-6 overall and 3-4 in SWAC play. The Texas Southern victories came by scores of 31-0 over Mississippi Valley State, 31-27 over Alabama State and 34-31 over Alabama A&M. The losses were by scores of 29-25 to Prairie View A&M, 24-20 top Houston Baptist, 23-20 to Alcorn State, 21-13 to Jackson State, 66-17 to Sam Houston State and 26-10 to Southern University.

Henderson 37, Ouachita 34 — It’s the Battle of the Ravine, my favorite game of the year. If you’ve never experienced this unique rivalry, you should make the trip to Arkadelphia for Saturday’s 1 p.m. kickoff (see my earlier essay on this blog about the Battle of the Ravine). The Reddies didn’t repeat as Great American Conference champions due to losses to Harding and Southern Arkansas. Yet with a win Saturday, they would be 9-2 and possibly qualify for postseason play. Henderson has the best record of any college program in the state since 2010. Ouachita, meanwhile, has put together a string of nine consecutive winning seasons. That’s the longest stretch for any college program in Arkansas. Ouachita is 6-4 and has been beset by injuries, losing its quarterback, its best running back (Kris Oliver, the NCAA Division II freshman of the year in 2015 according to at least one service), its best receiver, its best kick returner and two starters in the secondary. Considering the injuries, the six victories are quite an accomplishment. Both teams warmed up for this one with easy road wins in Oklahoma last Saturday. Henderson beat 1-9 Southern Nazarene by a final score of 40-7. The Reddies scored on three of their first four possessions and outgained the home team 543-157. Ouachita defeated 2-8 Oklahoma Baptist by a final score of 51-28. The Tigers trailed 7-0 after an early pick six but then scored 24 unanswered points. Henderson is playing at home, is far healthier than Ouachita and has more seniors. Thus the Reddies are a heavy favorite. But these games are usually close.

Harding 41, Arkansas Tech 32 — Harding attempts to complete an undefeated regular season in Searcy on Saturday afternoon. The Bisons improved to 10-0 and secured an outright conference title with a 24-7 win at Northwestern Oklahoma last Saturday. It’s the first conference title in football for Harding since 1989 and the first 10-win season since 1972. The Bisons rushed for 392 yards in that game. A decent Tech team should be able to hang around for at least three quarters. The Wonder Boys are 6-4 following last week’s 24-20 win at 4-6 Southwestern Oklahoma. Tech has won four of its past five games.

Southern Arkansas 42, UAM 30 — The Muleriders are 8-2 following a 37-24 win at 1-9 East Central Oklahoma. They maintain an outside shot at a spot in the NCAA Division II playoffs, but the host role in the Live United Bowl at Texarkana seems more likely. Michael Nunnery rushed for 148 yards and two touchdowns for the Muleriders last Saturday. Sophomore quarterback Barrett Renner was 23 of 30 passing for 194 yards. UAM fell to 4-6 with a 44-26 loss at 6-4 Southeastern Oklahoma. The Boll Weevils also have an excellent sophomore quarterback in Cole Sears. He was 20 of 42 passing for 355 yards. UAM already has surpassed its victory total for the previous two seasons combined and has the talent to give Southern Arkansas some problems, at least for a half.


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Battle of the Ravine: The 90th edition

Monday, November 7th, 2016

We became spoiled in recent years.

During the first five years of the Great American Conference, the GAC football championship resided in Arkadelphia.

It was won three times by the Reddies of Henderson State University.

It was won two times by the Tigers of Ouachita Baptist University.

That means that a conference title was either on the line or already secured for at least one of the Arkadelphia teams each year from 2011 through 2015 going into the Battle of the Ravine.

The past five years have seen record crowds and unprecedented media coverage for the most unusual college football rivalry in America.

This year, the GAC title is headed to Searcy. Harding University is 10-0 and is playing Arkansas Tech on Saturday in an attempt to ensure it hosts its first game in the NCAA Division II playoffs.

Henderson is 8-2 and still has an outside shot at a playoff slot. Most likely, though, the Reddies will head to a Division II bowl game with a victory Saturday.

Ouachita has been decimated by injuries this fall — the Tigers have lost their quarterback, best running back, best receiver, best kick returner and more — and enters the game with a 6-4 record. So this IS the bowl game for Ouachita.

Still, these are two good football teams.

Henderson has the best record among all college football programs in the state since 2010 at 62-16.

Ouachita, meanwhile, has secured its ninth consecutive winning season, the most of any college football program in Arkansas.

You have to understand that having a conference title on the line really isn’t essential to this rivalry. It’s always the biggest game of the year for both teams. Always.

It’s one of the most intense rivalries in college football, regardless of the division. The neighboring schools have played 89 times. Henderson has won 43 times, Ouachita has won 40 times and there have been six ties.

The Battle of the Ravine might not receive the recognition of an Auburn-Alabama, Texas-Oklahoma or Michigan-Ohio State series. But those who have played in these games, coached in them, covered them as journalists or simply watched from the stands understand.

There are few things in American sports that can be compared to a rivalry between four-year schools — both with quality football programs — whose stadiums are within walking distance of each other. It’s the only college football game in America in which the visiting team doesn’t fly or bus to a game. It walks.

In Arkadelphia, the town in which I was raised, it’s a battle that divides families. It’s Christmas, New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day all rolled into one. The local chamber of commerce once promoted it as the Biggest Little Football Game in America, a moniker originally used by two New England schools, Amherst and Williams. Those two schools began playing in 1884. Ouachita and Henderson began playing in 1895.

The game has had an off-and-on quality through the years.

After that first contest on Thanksgiving Day in 1895 (Ouachita defeated what was then Arkadelphia Methodist College by a score of 8-0), the two schools did not play again until 1907. Henderson won that game.

In 1914, perhaps the best Ouachita team ever defeated both the University of Arkansas and Ole Miss but was forced to settle for a scoreless tie in the Battle of the Ravine.

The game usually was played on Thanksgiving. The series was suspended from 1941-44 due to World War II.

Following the 1951 contest, the presidents of the two schools decided that the pranks and vandalism the week prior to the game had gotten out of hand. So they called an end to the series, and it didn’t resume until 1963. After three more Thanksgiving games, the contests were moved to the Saturday before Thanksgiving.

Another bump in the road came after the 1992 season when Henderson decided to leave the Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference for the Gulf South Conference, which is based in Birmingham, Ala. There was no Battle of the Ravine from 1993-95. The AIC disintegrated, Ouachita played a year as an independent and then joined the Lone Star Conference. The Battle of the Ravine resumed in 1996 as a nonconference game and was played as the first game of the season through 2001.

Ouachita and Harding eventually were allowed to join the other former AIC schools in the Gulf South Conference. But the folks in Birmingham never really understood this rivalry. Even though it was a conference game again, it wasn’t played as the final game of the season. For some reason, the GSC had Ouachita finishing against Harding and Henderson finishing against Southern Arkansas as “rivalry games.” Even worse, Ouachita “rotated off” Henderson’s schedule for two years and there was no Battle of the Ravine in 2004 or 2005.

Thank goodness for the GAC, an Arkansas-based conference that includes six schools from Arkansas and six schools from Oklahoma. The game is always played, and it’s always the final Saturday of the regular season, just as it should be.

The pranks leading up to the game are just as much a part of the rivalry as the game itself.

Ouachita students (including my youngest son; he’s a Ouachita sophomore) guard the Tiger statue in the middle of campus to keep it from being painted red.

Henderson turns off its fountain at the entrance to the school to keep it from being filled with purple suds.

The most famous prank occurred in the late 1940s when Ouachita’s homecoming queen, Ann Strickland, was taken by Henderson cheerleaders the week before the game to a house on Lake Hamilton at Hot Springs. She later would become Ann Vining, the wife of legendary Ouachita basketball coach Bill Vining. At the time of the friendly kidnapping, Bill Vining was a Ouachita athlete. He led search parties through the Caddo Hotel in downtown Arkadelphia, looking for his girlfriend. She was released after two days when it was learned that Ouachita officials had reported the incident to police as an actual kidnapping.

Diesel fuel has been used through the years to burn OBU into the Henderson turf and HSU into the Ouachita turf.

One year, male Henderson students who were dressed in drag convinced a Ouachita librarian that they were there to take a Tiger statue in the library away for its annual cleaning.

In the 1970s, the Henderson bonfire was ignited early by Ouachita students. One of the Ouachita students reportedly involved in the prank was a religion major from Hope named Mike Huckabee.

In 1999, the incident that became known as Trashcam occurred. A Henderson graduate assistant took a video camera into Arkadelphia’s Central Park, which overlooks the Ouachita practice field. As he was taping practice, the graduate assistant was spotted by a member of the Ouachita football team. The graduate assistant sped away but left the camera in a nearby trash can. When the camera was found with a Henderson identification tag on it, Ouachita athletic director David Sharp returned the camera to Henderson. It was the proper thing to do. The rivalry might be intense, but these folks have to live with each other 52 weeks a year. They sit in the same pews at church and find themselves next to each other in the waiting room at the dentist’s office.

In 1949, Ike Sharp (the father of David Sharp) performed one of the most talked-about feats in Battle of the Ravine lore. Henderson led 14-0 with seven minutes remaining in the game. Ouachita scored to make it 14-7, and then Ike Sharp successfully executed an onside kick. Ouachita then scored to tie the game. Sharp executed a second onside kick. Otis Turner, known by Ouachita fans as the Magic Toe, kicked a field goal to give Ouachita a 17-14 lead. Sharp then executed a third onside kick, allowing Ouachita to run out the clock.

The most memorable college football game of my childhood occurred in 1975 when both teams were ranked in the top five of the NAIA. Henderson was 9-0, and Ouachita was 8-1. On a bitterly cold day at Haygood Stadium on the Henderson side of the ravine, Ouachita converted a fourth-and-25 with time running out as Bill Vining Jr. completed a pass to Gary Reese that forced a measurement. Ouachita retained possession by the nose of the football and scored moments later to win 21-20. The two teams shared the AIC title. Ouachita advanced to the NAIA playoffs, and Henderson had to settle for a slot in the first (and last) Bicentennial Bowl at Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium.

The lights will be on in both stadiums each night this week to discourage pranks.

The signs on both campuses have been covered to keep off the paint.

As for me, I’ll look at the clock and count the hours until Saturday’s 1 p.m. kickoff at Carpenter-Haygood Stadium. The rivalry is an important part of who I am.

In my family, the day Ouachita played Henderson in football was as big as Christmas. We lived in the Ouachita Hills neighborhood, and we could walk to both stadiums from our house.

When they started playing again in 1963, I was 4 years old. You can bet I was there. So it has been 53 years since my first Battle of the Ravine.

Even though I’m in my 34th season of doing the play-by-play on radio of Ouachita games, I can assure you that there will be butterflies in my stomach when we sign on the broadcast at noon Saturday. I hope that never changes — that sense of anticipation, that realization of just how much this series has been a part of the life of my family (my father played quarterback for Ouachita in the 1947 Battle of the Ravine and my mother had been proclaimed the Ouachitonian beauty).

I lived in Washington, D.C., during the late 1980s, where I covered Congress for the Arkansas Democrat. I missed the 1985, 1986 and 1987 games. I flew back to Arkansas for the 1988 game, which was called off with the score tied at the half because the field was flooding.

I broadcast my first Battle of the Ravine in 1978 and did the games through 1984. I’ve broadcast all of the games since 1990.

One of my goals is to get ESPN to do its “College GameDay” show from Arkadelphia on the day of a Battle of the Ravine.

After all, ESPN took the show to Williamstown, Mass., on Nov. 10, 2007, for the Amherst-Williams game. That’s an NCAA Division III contest.

ESPN has never done the show from the site of a Division II game.

Can you imagine a national audience getting to watch as the visiting team walks to a road game?

At about 11:30 a.m. this Saturday, state troopers will stop traffic on U.S. Highway 67 and the members of the Ouachita football team will walk across, making the trek from their own dressing room to a visiting stadium.

At about 4 p.m. Saturday, the troopers will stop the traffic again, and the Tigers will walk back home.

There’s nothing else in America quite like it.

I’m counting the days, the hours, the minutes.

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A War Memorial vision

Friday, November 4th, 2016

My wife constantly reminds me that I get involved in too many crusades.

There are worse things in life, I suppose, than having multiple passions.

And I was passionate about trying to save Ray Winder Field, which was one of the 10 oldest professional baseball parks in America. I knew that if the Arkansas Travelers were to retain their big league affiliation, they had to move out of the crowded old park in the middle of Little Rock. But it could have — should have — been saved for amateur baseball.

Some of us tried.

We lined up high school, college and American Legion teams to play there. We formed a nonprofit organization to operate the ballpark.

But the city of Little Rock barely gave us the time of day. Our “city leaders” sold the iconic Arkansas structure to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences to turn into a parking lot.

To this day, I can’t bear to look when driving down Interstate 630.

Jay Jennings, a Little Rock-based writer and editor who once was a reporter for Sports Illustrated, put it this way in a beautifully written essay for Arkansas Life magazine back in 2012: “Ray Winder Field is now flattened, no mound in its middle, its concrete rubble hauled away, its fences knocked down, its I-beams only a ghostly memory. I mourn its demise and can conjure up my youthful summer nights there, chasing down foul balls through empty rows of seats, rushing to the dugout fence to ask for a broken bat, reveling in the varying textures of a Drumstick ice cream cone. Baseball has always been about nostalgia and fungible time.

“Maybe it’s the absence of Ray Winder Field that is causing me to think about its bigger, younger sibling just down the road, its seeming opposite: War Memorial Stadium. Even the names are a contrast: One the home of bucolic and breezy summer languidness (rays, wind, a field), the other evoking martial battles, death and enormity. A field is where games are played; a stadium is where crowds assemble.

“But there’s something about War Memorial that’s also worthy of nostalgic reflection, of civic affection. As a child (too young or too unruly for my parents to consider taking me to a game), on fall Saturdays, I would take my radio out on the front porch to listen to the game, and though I was more than two miles away, I could hear the roar from the crowd not only through my radio but from the stadium itself. But more than gratuitous self-reflection led me to consider War Memorial anew. Since it hosts Razorback games, high school football games (preseason, Catholic High and state championships), University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff games, band competitions, concerts and various other events, it’s possible that War Memorial Stadium is the most visited site in the state.”

In all of the statewide debate in recent years as to whether the University of Arkansas should continue playing football games in the capital city, one thing has been forgotten: War Memorial Stadium is one of this state’s top public works projects and also its largest memorial to the veterans of World War I and World War II.

It deserves to be preserved and treasured as we hopefully atone for the sin of allowing Ray Winder Field to be demolished — for a parking lot, for gosh sakes.

On Sept. 18, 1948, the University of Arkansas brought its football team to Little Rock to play Abilene Christian at the new stadium. Maurice “Footsie” Britt, who would be elected lieutenant governor 18 years later, led the dedication ceremonies.

Britt was the first person to earn all of the U.S. Army’s top awards, including the Medal of Honor, while fighting in a single war. Born in 1919 at Carlisle, Britt later moved to Lonoke and became a high school sports star. Because he wore size 13 shoes, he became known as “Footsie.” Britt was the captain of the football, basketball and track teams at Lonoke. He also was elected class president and was the valedictorian of his senior class.

Following his graduation in June 1937, Britt received an athletic scholarship to Arkansas, where he played football and basketball for the Razorbacks in addition to serving as the sports editor of the student newspaper.

After college, Britt signed a contract to play professional football for the Detroit Lions. His professional career was cut short when he joined the Army at the outset of World War II. He received the Medal of Honor for his gallantry in a battle near Mignano, Italy, on Nov. 10, 1943.

On Feb. 12, 1944, Britt lost his right arm when an artillery shell landed near him.

War Memorial Stadium was built to honor Arkansans such as “Footsie” Britt.

We forget that, don’t we?

Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s announcement at the state Capitol last month was significant. Hutchinson proposed that the stadium become a part of the state Department of Parks & Tourism, a move that could at last take the spotlight off the issue of Razorback games and put it back where it should be — the protection of an Arkansas shrine.

The War Memorial Stadium Commission — under the leadership of Little Rock attorney Kevin Crass and his predecessor as chairman, Little Rock businessman Gary Smith — has done an outstanding job updating the facility since the turn of the century.

The stadium that Britt helped dedicate in 1948 had 31,000 seats. A major expansion project occurred in 1967 as interest in Razorback football reached a fever pitch following the 22-game winning streak in 1964-65. The stadium now holds almost 54,000 people.

In the past 15 years, virtually every area of the stadium has been updated — new lights, new artificial turf, a restoration of the outside of the structure, new scoreboards and video boards.

In 2010, the commission completed a $7.3 million project that included a three-story press box and additional club seats.

If there’s an area in which the commission has fallen short, it’s probably in properly informing Arkansans about those improvements. Each time the debate about Razorback games in Little Rock rages, uneducated Hog fans and message board trolls post comments on social media that paint the picture of an aging, municipal-owned stadium (think Legion Field in Birmingham) that has been allowed to deteriorate.

The truth is that it’s a state-owned facility that looks better than it ever has.

“Maybe the state doesn’t completely understand that 250 days out of the year, we have one or more events that are at War Memorial Stadium,,” says Jerry Cohen, the stadium manager. “We’re an event center as well as a football stadium. We look at this as a chance for growth. … There are only two bathrooms and a kitchen that haven’t been redone. We’re basically a new structure other than the concrete and the bleachers.”

Regardless of whether the University of Arkansas continues playing games at War Memorial Stadium past 2018 or not, this is a story that could have a happy ending for the stadium. With the inherent strengths of the Department of Parks & Tourism — think sports and veterans’ exhibits around the concourse, a gift shop, a small theater, maybe even a restaurant — some of the beloved memorial’s best days could be ahead.

“War Memorial Stadium is a critical part of our lifeblood,” Hutchinson says.

Jennings wrote in the 2012 magazine story: “I usually park for free on Kavanaugh’s commercial strip in Hillcrest and walk past modest houses to Markham, where the stadium suddenly rises in front of me. It’s a neighborhood stadium. That charm may be one reason the Bleacher Report website named War Memorial one of the top 50 stadiums in college football last year. … She’s an old lady who has aged well. Look closely at the architecture, which you may never have done before.

“The main facade’s portal is a lovely piece of postwar simplicity, an example of a trend that one contemporary critic has described as ‘the postwar revolt against the stylistic clutter of traditional moldings and ornamentation.’ Over an aluminum canopy covering the entrance are three large windows made of translucent glass bricks (as are all of the external windows in the stadium), and these in turn are covered by an aluminum grill of six long horizontal bars and six shorter vertical bars, similar to what you might see on the front of cars of that vintage.

“The architects, Burks and Anderson, were liberal in their use of aluminum because at the time, Arkansas produced more of it than any other state in the country, and they wanted to showcase Arkansas materials. Above the grilled windows are three enormous aluminum plaques depicting football players in stylized action poses. I don’t know who the artist is, but they’re quite striking. … Above them is a terrific mid-century-modern sans-serif font spelling out War Memorial Stadium. All of these elements speak of a thoughtful and sensitive public building.”

The director of the state Department of Parks & Tourism, Kane Webb, is a former sports reporter like Jennings and also a fan of the stadium.

“I love War Memorial Stadium,” Webb says. “I saw my first college football game there in 1972. My dad took me to see Joe Ferguson and the Hogs. Unfortunately, they lost to Rice that day, but he gave me a souvenir on the way home to make me feel better. I played there at Catholic High for the Rockets. I covered dozens of high school and college games there as a sportswriter. Now on Friday night, when the Rockets are home, I’m out there watching my daughter perform as a Mount St. Mary Rockette. It means a lot to me.”

Members of the commission overseeing Webb’s department seem excited about the opportunity to have a flagship facility in the middle of the state’s largest city. They already operate 52 state parks, and Arkansas’ parks system is recognized as being among the best of the country.

Envision this:

— The concourse open to the public six or seven days a week so visitors can see displays on those who served in World War I and World War II along with displays on the state’s sports history.

— A gift shop filled with Arkansas-made items.

— A small theater where visitors can watch short films about the state.

— High school games there every Thursday and Friday night during the season, more soccer events, maybe even a college bowl game.

“It’s in our wheelhouse,” Webb says. “It’s what we do in the hospitality and tourism business. We run facilities. We put on events. We serve the public, and we know how to get the good word out about Arkansas and its many attractions. … We have an established record of getting things done, taking care of business, doing right by the taxpayers. Our team is ready for the challenge.

“I had a small group go out and meet with Jerry Cohen the other day. They speak the same language. It just seems like a natural fit for us. I really like the governor’s idea of a feasibility study. It always helps to have an objective, outside look at something, especially when it comes to such an emotional and cultural touchstone for so many of us in Arkansas.”

What would be even more exciting is if the city of Little Rock, which owns the land around the stadium, would hire a team of landscape architects and transform War Memorial Park into all it can be.

When the golf course at what was then Fair Park was built in 1931, it was on the far western edge of the city. Now, it’s in the middle of town. Frankly, the city already has too many holes of municipal golf given the declining number of golfers.

It’s time to transform the valuable greenspace in War Memorial Park into a place that will attract a broad segment of the city’s population — a place where residents of the city can run, walk, bike, fish, have picnics, play soccer, etc.

Great cities have great parks.

War Memorial Park — despite city government’s disastrous decision to sell Ray Winder Field so it could be turned into a parking lot — holds the potential of being a great park.

“One morning, I decided to take advantage of my right as a taxpayer to run some bleachers,” Jennings wrote for Arkansas Life. “It was a day forecast to reach 110 degrees, so it wasn’t a surprise that no one else was there, except for one unlucky worker who was repainting the stadium aisles red for the start of the football season. I began on the north side of the west stands and traversed them north to south, up one aisle, across the top, down the next, over and up again. In the center at the highest point, there are 62 rows, and the steps near the top are taller than the rest. Burks and Anderson must have had a good reason for doing that.

“At the other end, I paused at the top to catch my breath and could hear the call of some wild bird from the zoo piercing the morning air. In one direction, I could see the rolling fairways of the War Memorial Golf Course, and in the other the ever-growing campus of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. In addition to the long-distance views, there’s something expansive to the imagination about being alone in a stadium intended for 55,000.”

Community developers talk a lot these days about creating “great places.” Great places, you see, can attract talented young people to live and work.

If the state of Arkansas (the owner of War Memorial Stadium) and the city of Little Rock (the owner of War Memorial Park) will work together, we could have one of the state’s great places right in the middle of the capital city. And that would be true regardless of what the Razorbacks do.

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College football: Week 10

Tuesday, November 1st, 2016

I needed a week like last week.

I went 9-0 on the college football picks, the first time to run the table this season.

There was no Razorback game to fret over.

Meanwhile, Coach Blake Anderson of Arkansas State had publicly chastised me at the Little Rock Touchdown Club for picking his Red Wolves to lose their first two Sun Belt Conference games. So I went with ASU against Louisiana-Monroe, and the Red Wolves came through in a big way. ASU has now won 12 consecutive conference games.

UCA continues to roll. Wouldn’t it be something if the Bears could come into their Nov. 19 game at Sam Houston State (the No. 1 team nationally in the FCS) undefeated in Southland Conference play?

About the only sure thing has been picking UAPB to lose, but this week’s game is more challenging to select since the Golden Lions take on a Mississippi Valley State team that’s 0-8.

We also picked all six Arkansas teams from the Great American Conference to post victories over the GAC teams from Oklahoma, and the Arkansas teams (all of whom were playing at home) did just that.

This week, the six Arkansas teams in the GAC travel to Oklahoma. Don’t expect another Natural State sweep.

We’re now 52-20 for the season.

Let’s get to the picks for Week 10:

Florida 34, Arkansas 28 — Florida improved to 6-1 overall and 4-1 in the Southeastern Conference with a 24-10 victory over Georgia in the game at Jacksonville, Fla., that’s billed as the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. Georgia continues to struggle in its first year under Kirby Smart, falling to 4-4 overall and 2-4 in the SEC. Smart is now just 1-6 as a player and coach in this series. Florida has won four of the past five games in the series against Georgia and 21 of the past 27. Arkansas now must contend with a Florida defense that held Georgia to only 164 yards of offense. The Hogs find themselves 1-3 in SEC play with none of the three losses having been close. The game is in Fayetteville, though, a factor that hopefully will let Arkansas hang around until late in the game with a chance to win. Florida’s only loss came on Sept. 24 at Tennessee, 38-28. The wins have been by scores of 24-7 over Massachusetts, 45-7 over Kentucky, 32-0 over North Texas, 13-6 over Vanderbilt, 40-14 over Missouri and, as noted, 24-10 over Georgia.

Arkansas State 36, Georgia State 26 — The Red Wolves head east to Atlanta for a Thursday night game against Georgia State. In the 51-10 thrashing of Louisiana-Monroe at Jonesboro last Saturday night, ASU had 434 yards of offense and no turnovers. Red Wolf teams have defeated Louisiana-Monroe squads five consecutive times by two touchdowns or more. The ASU offense scored six touchdowns on eight first-half possessions and now seems to be hitting its stride as it comes into the game at the Georgia Dome against 2-6 Georgia State. It has been quite a turnaround for a team that went 0-4 in nonconference play (including a loss in Jonesboro to UCA) and is now 3-0 in Sun Belt action. Georgia State’s two wins have been by scores of 41-21 over Texas State and 31-6 over Tennessee-Martin. The losses have been by scores of 31-21 to Ball State, 48-14 to Air Force, 23-17 to Wisconsin, 17-3 to Appalachian State, 31-21 to Troy and 13-10 to South Alabama.

UCA 31, Stephen F. Austin 27 — The Bears travel to the piney woods of east Texas to take on a Stephen F. Austin team coached by former UCA head man Clint Conque and quarterbacked by Conque’s son, Zach, who played his high school football at Little Rock Catholic. UCA was hitting on all cylinders at Hammond, La., last Saturday in its 45-10 victory over Southeastern Louisiana. The game was scoreless after one quarter, but the Bears outscored Southeastern 24-3 in the second quarter and never looked back. The UCA defense allowed just 78 yards rushing. Stephen F. Austin is 4-4 with wins of 30-24 over West Alabama (an NCAA Division II team), 31-28 over McNeese State, 41-30 over Abilene Christian and 42-19 over Incarnate Word. The losses have come by scores of 69-17 to Texas Tech, 63-28 to Sam Houston State, 35-28 to Nicholls State and 58-34 to Southeastern Louisiana.

Mississippi Valley State 10, UAPB 9 — I want to pick the Golden Lions this week. I really do. But I’m gun-shy in the wake of UAPB’s 70-0 loss to Grambling State last Saturday that dropped the Golden Lions to 1-7 overall and 1-5 in the SWAC. This team appears to have lost its desire to play. It was 42-0 at the half. Grambling had a yardage advantage of 743-177. The Golden Lions were outscored 200-45 in the month of October. If UAPB is going to win another game this year, it needs to be on Saturday afternoon in Pine Bluff. Mississippi Valley State comes to town following losses of 61-14 to Eastern Michigan, 35-16 to Alabama A&M, 31-0 to Texas Southern, 56-21 to Prairie View A&M, 16-14 to Jackson State, 67-7 to Montana, 56-24 to Alabama State and 59-10 to Grambling.

Henderson 67, Southern Nazarene 21 — The Reddies defeated 2-7 Oklahoma Baptist by a score of 67-21 on Saturday afternoon in Arkadelphia. What the heck. Let’s pick that same score as a 7-2 Henderson team heads to the Oklahoma City area to play 1-8 Southern Nazarene. A final record of 9-2 likely won’t get the Reddies into the NCAA Division II playoffs, but it could earn them the host role at the Live United Bowl at Texarkana. Henderson passed for 594 yards against Oklahoma Baptist, one yard short of a Great American Conference record. The Reddies finished the game with 785 yards of offense.

Ouachita 40, Oklahoma Baptist 30 — A Ouachita team missing its quarterback, top running back and top receiver needed a lesser opponent. And the 5-4 Tigers got just that on Thursday night of last week when Southern Nazarene came to Arkadelphia. Ouachita jumped out to a 27-0 halftime lead and then put it on cruise control in the second half. True freshman Shuncee Thomas out of Bossier City, La. (playing in place of injured sophomore tailback Kris Oliver from Arkadelphia) finished with 149 yards even though he saw only limited action in the second half. The Ouachita coaches hope the many young players who have been pressed into service due to the injuries continue to grow up in Shawnee, Okla., on Saturday afternoon. But the Tigers are not good on the road. They’re 4-1 at home and 1-3 on the road.

Southeastern Oklahoma 37, UAM 35 — The Boll Weevils won a second consecutive game at home to improve to 4-5, topping their combined victory total for the previous two seasons. UAM beat 1-8 East Central Oklahoma by a final score of 42-21 as sophomore quarterback Cole Sears threw for 343 yards and four touchdowns. Sears gets better each week. The Weevils go to Durant, Okla., to take on a 5-4 Southeastern Oklahoma team with something that UAM hasn’t had in a long time — confidence. Like Ouachita, though, UAM is not good on the road. The Weevils are 4-1 in Monticello and 0-4 in road games. Still, expect this to be an exciting game in Durant on Saturday afternoon.

Southwestern Oklahoma 25, Arkansas Tech 22 — The Wonder Boys are 5-4 following a 41-35 victory over 4-5 Northwestern Oklahoma on homecoming afternoon in Russellville last Saturday. Kristian Thompson rushed for 145 yards and three touchdowns. Tech makes the long trip to Weatherford, Okla., this Saturday to take on a 4-5 Southwestern Oklahoma squad that lost its first four games, won its next four games and then played league leader Harding close in Searcy for three quarters on Saturday afternoon before finally falling 42-27. Tech vs. Southwestern has all the makings of a close game.

Harding 49, Northwestern Oklahoma 24 — The Bisons moved to 9-0 with that win over Southwestern Oklahoma. Harding had a season-high 506 rushing yards, the fifth-highest total in school history, and earned a share of the school’s first conference championship since 1989. Harding led 40:55 to 19:05 in time of possession. The Bisons can earn the outright GAC title with a win at Alva, Okla., over a decent Northwestern team. This will be the first time the GAC football title has been out of Arkadelphia. Of the first five championships awarded by the conference, three went to Henderson and two went to Ouachita.

Southern Arkansas 43, East Central Oklahoma 20 — The Muleriders improved to 7-2 with a 38-24 win in Magnolia last Saturday over 5-4 Southeastern Oklahoma. Sophomore quarterback Barrett Renner threw five touchdown passes for Southern Arkansas. The Muleriders jumped out to a 24-7 halftime lead and never looked back. With a convincing win over Henderson already in the books, SAU has a slight chance of making the playoffs if it finishes 9-2.

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College football: Week 9

Wednesday, October 26th, 2016

My picks were almost as bad as the Razorbacks’ play on the field last week.

I went 3-4, the worst week here on the Southern Fried blog in several years.

After the win over Ole Miss, I had climbed back aboard the Razorback bandwagon and foolishly selected Arkansas to beat Auburn despite the deficiencies in the Razorback offensive and defensive lines that had been so glaring in one-sided losses to Alabama and Texas A&M.

Arkansas finds itself 1-3 in Southeastern Conference play with none of the three losses having been close.

Yes, I’ll pull out the old joke: I’m picking Arkansas to slip past B.Y.E. this Saturday.

I also was done in by a trio of upsets in the Great American Conference as Southern Arkansas defeated Henderson a week after losing to Ouachita, Ouachita lost to UAM a week after upsetting the Muleriders and Arkansas Tech lost to Southeastern Oklahoma following convincing victories the previous two weeks.

The only consistent team in the GAC this year is Harding. I expect the Bisons to finish the regular season with an 11-0 record.

The record for the season is now 43-20.

Let’s get to the picks for Week 9 and see if we can recover from the prognosticating disaster that was Week 8:

Arkansas State 34, Louisiana-Monroe 31: When he spoke to the Little Rock Touchdown Club last week, Red Wolf head coach Blake Anderson chastised me (with a smile on his face, mind you) for picking against his team in the first two Sun Belt Conference games. Arkansas State had gone 0-4 in nonconference play, including that loss in Jonesboro to an FCS team (UCA from the Southland Conference). Can you blame me? But the Red Wolves are 2-0 in conference action after wins in Jonesboro over Georgia Southern and South Alabama. And they’re back in Jonesboro this Saturday for a fourth consecutive home game as Louisiana-Monroe comes to town. We’ll step out there and pick ASU against a Louisiana-Monroe squad that’s 2-5 overall and 2-1 in the Sun Belt. The victories have been by scores of 38-21 over Southern University and 40-34 over Texas State. The losses have been by scores of 59-17 to Oklahoma, 23-21 to Georgia Southern, 58-7 to Auburn, 34-31 to Idaho and 59-17 to New Mexico. Don’t let me down, Coach Anderson.

UCA 30, Southeastern Louisiana 22 — The Bears remain on a roll. UCA moved to 6-1 overall and 5-0 in the Southland Conference with a 22-12 victory over Lamar in Conway last Saturday night. This is a Bear team that seems to get better each week. UCA now must head south to take on Southeastern Louisiana in an afternoon game Saturday at Hammond, La. This one won’t be easy. The Lions are just 4-3 overall but find themselves 4-1 in conference play following three consecutive victories. The losses were by scores of 61-7 to Oklahoma State, 28-23 to Southern Utah and 38-14 to Lamar. The four conference victories for Southeastern have come by scores of 34-24 over Northwestern State, 31-24 over McNeese State, 58-34 over Stephen F. Austin and 37-3 over Houston Baptist.

Grambling State 50, UAPB 23 — This UAPB team seems to get worse with each passing week. Last week saw a 49-17 loss to Southern University in Baton Rouge, the fourth consecutive defeat for a Golden Lion squad that’s now 1-6 overall and 1-4 in the SWAC. The assignment this week is to go back on the road against a 5-1 Grambling team whose only defeat was a close 31-21 loss to Arizona at Tucson during the second week of the season. The Tigers are 4-0 in SWAC play with victories of 35-14 over Jackson State, 43-18 over Alcorn State, 36-16 over Praivie View A&M, and 59-10 over Mississippi Valley State. You can make it 5-0 in SWAC action after this week.

Harding 38, Southwestern Oklahoma 21 — The Bisons improved to 8-0 on Thursday night of last week with a 35-7 win at Ada, Okla., against an East Central Oklahoma team that’s now a disappointing 1-7 on the season. This week’s opponent, Southwestern Oklahoma, started the season 0-4 and seemed to be in for a season just as dismal as that being experienced by East Central. But the Bulldogs have turned their season around with four consecutive victories, including a 37-35 come-from-behind win over Oklahoma Baptist last week. Expect the Bulldogs to hang around for three quarters or so in Searcy on Saturday afternoon before Harding pulls away.

Henderson 32, Oklahoma Baptist 24 — The Reddies won three of the first five Great American Conference championships (Ouachita won the other two) and were the overwhelming favorite to take home another GAC title in 2016. Henderson started the season 5-0 but was blown out in Arkadelphia two weeks ago by Harding. The Reddies rebounded for a 45-17 victory at Arkadelphia the next Saturday against UAM, but then they went to El Dorado for the Murphy USA Classic. Their defense gave up half a hundred to Southern Arkansas in a 50-24 defeat. Barrett Renner threw for 318 yards and two touchdowns against the Reddies. It was SAU’s first victory over Henderson since 2005. Expect the 6-2 Reddies to rebound somewhat for a homecoming triumph in Arkadelphia on Saturday afternoon against a 2-6 Oklahoma Baptist team.

Ouachita 29, Southern Nazarene 18 — Injury-depleted Ouachita — missing its quarterback, top running back, top receiver and others — somehow managed to win its homecoming game in four overtimes against Southern Arkansas on Oct. 15. Then the magic ran out in Monticello last Saturday afternoon as the Boll Weevils of UAM moved to 3-5 with a 34-26 victory over Ouachita. The loss dropped the Tigers to 4-4 following a 3-1 start. Ouachita had won the previous five games against UAM, but Cole Sears completed 18 of 27 passes on Saturday for 254 yards and three Boll Weevil touchdowns. Ouachita returns home Thursday night to Cliff Harris Stadium, where the Tigers are 13-3 since the stadium opened in 2014. Expect Ouachita to get a win over 1-7 Southern Nazarene, but even this one won’t be easy due to all of the freshmen who are having to play.

UAM 37, East Central Oklahoma 26 — The Boll Weevils are home again this week. What the heck. Let’s call for a second consecutive victory for a program that has struggled in recent years. Sears looked sharp in the win over Ouachita and the Boll Weevils, who already have matched their combined victory total of the previous two seasons, are feeling good about themselves. The Weevils have a talented redshirt freshman running back named Deountario Brown and a fine freshman kicker named Josh Marini. Better days are ahead for Hud Jackson’s program.

Southern Arkansas 35, Southeastern Oklahoma 28 — The Muleriders are 6-2 and hopeful that three victories and a 9-2 record will earn them a spot in the NCAA Division II playoffs. A 5-3 Southeastern Oklahoma team that defeated Arkansas Tech 36-31 last Saturday should present quite a challenge in Magnolia this Saturday afternoon. Renner, who completed 21 of 33 passes in the win over Henderson, will need to have another good day. Michael Nunnery, who scored three touchdowns on the ground against the Reddies, also must have a productive afternoon. This has the makings of one of the most entertaining games in the GAC this week.

Arkansas Tech 41, Northwestern Oklahoma 36 — I’ve picked all Arkansas schools against the Oklahoma schools so far. I might as well continue the trend. Tech, which is now 4-4, was disappointed in the loss at Southeastern Oklahoma since it came on the heels of victories of 49-17 over Ouachita and 55-14 over East Central Oklahoma. Durant, Okla., is a tough place to win. Ouachita’s lone loss in its first four games, for instance, came at Durant. The Wonder Boys are back in Russellville on Saturday afternoon against a 4-4 Northwestern Oklahoma squad that defeated Southern Nazarene 42-9 in its previous outing.

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Aboard the Gus Bus

Friday, October 21st, 2016

Gus Malzahn’s Auburn Tigers take on the Arkansas Razorbacks late Saturday afternoon at Auburn.

Much like Hugh Freeze (whose Ole Miss Rebels lost to Arkansas last week in Fayetteville), Malzahn can thank Arkansas State for opening the door for what quickly became a job as a head coach in the Southeastern Conference.

Football fans across the country were stunned when the news leaked out in December 2011 that Malzahn — one of the most highly paid and innovative offensive coordinators in college football at the time — had accepted an offer to be the next head coach at Arkansas State in Jonesboro.

After all, Malzahn reportedly had turned down an offer a year earlier to be the head coach at Vanderbilt and was strongly considered for the job of head coach at Maryland.

By the end of the 2011, it was rumored that he was in the running for head coaching jobs at Kansas and North Carolina.

To understand Malzahn, you must drive through the soybean, rice and cotton fields of east Arkansas to the poor farming community of Hughes. The population in the 2010 census was 1,441 (it’s even smaller now), down from a high of 1,919 in the 1980 census.

The Hughes entry in the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture admits that the second largest town in St. Francis County is “typical of the towns in this part of the state, although it is not known for any major historical events or as the home of any significantly famous peple.”

That translates to “not much happens here.”

But it was at Hughes where Malzahn’s career as a coach began.

It was at Hughes where he first became a hot coaching commodity, albeit at the high school level.

It was at Hughes where Malzahn started to refine his coaching philosophies, further growing to love the sport and its challenges.

George Schroeder, a former Arkansas Democrat-Gazette sportswriter who went on to national acclaim as a college football reporter, was in Arizona in January 2011 as Auburn prepared to play Oregon for the national championship (a game the Tigers would win).

In a piece for the Sports Illustrated website, Schroeder remembered the time in 1994 when Malzahn brought his Hughes football team to War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock for the Class 4A title game.

“They’d arrived a few minutes late, and as they were about to take their seats high in the stands, the coach turned around, pointed to the state championship game unfolding below and addressed the stunning reality. The next day, his bunch would play for a title, too. ‘This,’ Gus Malzahn told the Hughes Blue Devils, ‘is the big time, guys.’ For those wide-eyed kids from a tiny farming community in the Mississippi River Delta, there was nothing bigger. For their 29-year-old, third-year head coach, too.”

Hughes lost to Lonoke the next day, 17-13.

“I thought I’d never be back,” Malzahn told Schroeder. “I thought I’d never get a chance again.”

He’s a man who still describes himself as “a high school coach who just happens to be coaching college.”

When asked to name the coaches he looked up to when he was getting started in the business, Malzahn doesn’t list college head coaches. He lists men such as Don Campbell of Wynne High School, Frank McClellan of Barton High School and Barry Lunney Sr., whose final two high school coaching stops were at Fort Smith Southside and Bentonville.

Malzahn was born in Irving, Texas, in October 1965. His parents divorced when he was 6. After a year in Little Rock and a year in Tulsa, his mother wound up in Fort Smith, where Malzahn lived from the fourth grade until his graduation from Fort Smith Christian High School in 1984. He loved sports and had decided by junior high that he wanted to coach for a living. He was a wide receiver and safety in football while also playing basketball and baseball.

“That’s just what I did,” Malzahn says. “I played everything.”

Malzahn also enjoyed coaching younger kids at the Evans Boys Club in Fort Smith. He coached soccer, baseball and football — basically anything that gave him a chance to be in a gym or on a playing field.

Malzahn was offered a football scholarship to Henderson State University in Arkadelphia after high school but decided to walk on as a football player for head coach Ken Hatfield at the University of Arkansas.

“It took me about two practices to figure out I wasn’t good enough to play at that level,” he says. “But I stuck with it for a year and a half.”

Malzahn transferred to Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, where his best friend from Fort Smith Christian, David Little, was on the baseball team.

After a semester, Malzahn moved to the other side of U.S. Highway 67 in Arkadelphia to play football at Henderson. Malzahn played during the 1988 and 1989 seasons for Coach Ralph “Sporty” Carpenter. Those were the final two seasons of a long coaching career for Carpenter, a colorful Hamburg native who died in 1990.

“Coach Carpenter was kind of a legend when I got to Henderson,” Malzahn says. “Everyone knew him or knew about him. It was one of those special deals to be a part of that group.”

Malzahn had married his girlfriend from Fort Smith, Kristi Otwell. Carpenter, known for taking care of his players both during and after college (it was Carpenter who gave a graduate assistant named Charlie Strong his first big break by getting him a job at Florida), eased the transition.

“I had just gotten married to Kristi, and he was really concerned about helping her, helping us and seeing that we had what we needed to succeed,” Malzahn says of Carpenter.

In 1991, Malzahn applied for a position as an assistant coach at West Memphis High School. That job went instead to a coach named Bobby Crockett, who left his job as an assistant coach at Hughes. Malzahn was hired to take his place.

“I didn’t even know there was a Hughes,” Malzahn admits. “It turned out to be a great place for a young coach. I could make mistakes and then learn from those mistakes.”

Hughes represented a bit of culture shock for a man who had grown up in Fort Smith and attended college at Fayetteville and Arkadelphia. He and his young wife lived in a mobile home with Gus teaching everything from geography to health. After one season as an assistant coach, Malzahn was promoted to head coach for the Blue Devils.

One of the most popular books in the country among high school coaches is a book Malzahn wrote. It’s titled “The Hurry Up No-Huddle: An Offensive Philosophy” and came out in 2003. Eleven years earlier, as the new head coach at Hughes, Malzahn bought a book titled “The Delaware Wing-T: An Order of Football.” In those early years, his offenses depended on the run.

Schroeder described that 1994 state championship loss to Lonoke: “In the final moments, the Blue Devils drove inside the 10. But a halfback pass misfired. A sure touchdown pass was dropped. Their last chance was intercepted. And the head coach still second-guesses himself. He knows he should have run the ball because there was still time and that was the Blue Devils’ strength. He remembers the awful empty feeling, that this was his one shot at the big time.”

After one more season at Hughes, Malzahn was hired a Shiloh Christian, a private school in Springdale that opened in 1976 as an outgrowth of the First Baptist Church. In 1986, Texas native Ronnie Floyd came to the church as its senor pastor. In addition to growth at the church, the dynamic, driven new minister oversaw growth at the school.

A winning football program was important to Floyd, especially since his son Josh was the quarterback.

The athletic director at Shiloh was Jimmy Dykes, now the head women’s basketball coach at Arkansas. When Malzahn saw a note asking him to call Dykes, he knew what it was about.

Gus and Kristi Malzahn headed from the Delta to the Ozarks.

It was at Shiloh that Malzahn moved from a run-oriented offense to the wide-open passing attack for which he would become known. He was the Saints’ head coach from 1996-2000. His 1998 team set what at the time was a national record with 66 passing touchdowns, and Josh Floyd almost set a national record with 5,878 yards of offense (5,221 passing yards and 657 rushing yards).

Malzahn, the man who had feared he would never get back to War Memorial Stadium for a state championship game, led the Saints to four consecutive title appearances. They lost 54-30 to Frank McClellan’s Barton Bears in 1997, defeated Hector 49-14 in 1998, defeated Carlisle 47-35 in 1999 and lost 30-29 in overtime to Rison in 2000.

Following the 2000 season, Malzahn was Springdale’s choice to replace veteran head coach Jarrell Williams.

“What people don’t remember is there were still a lot of questions about whether I could coach in the state’s largest classification,” Malzahn says. “I guess I was the only one crazy enough to try to fill Coach Williams’ shoes. He was Springdale football.”

Malzahn said the memory of Williams cast a long shadow during the 2001 season.

“The job I did wasn’t good enough for the people of Springdale, and I knew it,” he says.

Across town, Shiloh was winning another state championship without him, defeating Augusta 34-20 in the 2001 title game.

By 2002, though, Malzahn had the Bulldogs in the state championship game, where they lost to Barry Lunney Sr.’s Fort Smith Southside Rebels, 17-10.

Gus Malzahn was well on his way to being an Arkansas high school coaching icon at age 37.

Malzahn’s legend grew at Springdale when his 2005 squad went 14-0, outscored its opponents 664-188 and routed West Memphis 54-20 in the state championship game at War Memorial Stadium in front of the largest crowd to ever watch a high school event in Arkansas.

Gus Malzahn had come a long way from Hughes. Sportswriter Kurt Voigt even wrote a book about that 2005 Springdale team.

Hundreds of thousands of words have been written in Arkansas about what happened next.

Malzahn joined Houston Nutt’s staff at Arkansas in December 2005. Many believed that Frank Broyles, the school’s athletic director at the time, had forced Nutt’s hand.

Nutt mispronounced Malzahn’s name at the news conference that was held to introduce the new coordinator, and Malzahn was never fully accepted by his fellow Razorback coaches (some of whom derisively referred to him as “high school”) even though Arkansas won the Southeastern Conference Western Division championship in 2006.

With the tension evident, it surprised few people inside the state when Malzahn accepted an offer from the new head coach at Tulsa, Todd Graham. The two men had become friends when Graham was coaching a high school powerhouse in Allen, Texas. Graham had purchased a video Malzahn hosted on the hurry-up, no-huddle offense and discovered they had some of the same ideas.

With Malzahn as offensive coordinator, Tulsa ranked first nationally in total yards per game and third in passing in 2007. The Golden Hurricane became the first college team to have a 5,000-yard passer, a 1,000-yard rusher and three 1,000-yard receivers in the same season. In 2008, Tulsa led the nation again in total yards, averaging 570 yards per game while ranking second in scoring.

It didn’t take Auburn’s new head coach, a defensive specialist named Gene Chizik, long to move Malzahn back to the SEC in December 2008. The Tigers finished the 2009 season ranked 16th in total offense and 17th in scoring after having been tied for 110th in the country in scoring the previous season.

In 2010, Auburn won the national championship, quarterback Cam Newton won the Heisman Trophy and Malzahn won the Broyles Award as the top assistant football coach in the country.

No assistant coach in America had a higher profile. Some reports had Vanderbilt offering him as much as $3 million a year to be its head coach.

Malzahn later told me he had no regrets. He believed acceptance of the Vanderbilt job in December 2010 would have taken his focus off preparing for Auburn’s appearance in the national championship game. Auburn increased his annual salary from $500,000 to $1.3 million, making him perhaps the nation’s highest paid assistant football coach.

At Arkansas State, Hugh Freeze had moved up after one season as ASU’s offensive coordinator to replace Steve Roberts. Prior to the 2011 football season, Freeze was best known as the man who had coached Michael Oher at Briarcrest Christian School in Memphis. Oher was the subject of Michael Lewis’ 2006 book “The Blind Side” and the 2009 movie of the same name in which Freeze was portrayed by actor Ray McKinnon.

There was excitement surrounding Freeze’s hiring, but even the most optimistic Red Wolf fan could not have predicted the success that would follow. ASU went 10-2 during the regular season, won the Sun Belt Conference championship and earned a spot in a bowl game at Mobile, Ala. Freeze parlayed his instant success at ASU into the head coaching job at Ole Miss, where he replaced Nutt.

Despair on the part of ASU followers turned to elation when Malzahn made the decision to return home to Arkansas.

In late 2010, Arkansas State athletic director Dean Lee had called Malzahn at Auburn to ask him about Freeze.

At the end of the conversation, Lee joked: “You wouldn’t want to come back to Arkansas, would you?”

When Freeze left for Ole Miss, Lee again talked to Malzahn to pick his brain about possible successors. Once more he joked: “You wouldn’t want to come back to Arkansas, would you?”

This time, there was a long pause.

“I would consider that,” Malzahn finally said.

On Dec. 8, 2011, Malzahn called Lee in his office. They had a second long conversation that Thursday night once Lee had gotten home.

Malzahn had decided he was ready to be a head coach at the college level. He hadn’t been offered the job at either North Carolina or Kansas, and the thought of returning home to Arkansas was appealing. The pay would be much less than he was making at Auburn. He knew that.

On Friday, Dec. 9, 2011, Lee and Malzahn talked three more times by phone.

By 10:30 a.m. that Saturday, Lee was on the way to Auburn in his personal vehicle.

Paranoid that Malzahn’s home was being watched by the media, Lee had taken the ASU license plate off the front of the vehicle and removed the Red Wolf bumper stickers.

For three hours that evening, Lee visited with Malzahn and his wife in their home. He then pulled out late in the evening. Too nervous to sleep, Lee drove straight back to Jonesboro, arriving at 6:45 a.m. Sunday.

By then, ASU President Chuck Welch and Gov. Mike Beebe, an ASU graduate, were in the loop. By the following Wednesday, Malzahn was being introduced as the next ASU head coach before a large crowd at the Convocation Center in Jonesboro.

Things had moved quickly.

“I’m an Arkansas guy,” Malzahn told me soon after arriving in Jonesboro. “I’m still a high school coach at heart, and I’m a firm believer in being able to win at the major college level with high school talent from Arkansas. Kristi and I loved Auburn, but we were 10 hours from our family and friends. This is my chance to come back and build something big, to put it on the national map.”

Little did he realize how soon Auburn would be calling him back to the SEC.

Malzahn led the Red Wolves to a 9-3 record and a Sun Belt Conference championship as quarterback Ryan Aplin thrived in his offense, passing for 3,342 yards and 24 touchdowns.

To the east at Auburn, the alumni had grown weary of Chizik despite that national title just two seasons earlier.

Malzahn got the call. He would never have the chance to build what he had described as the “Boise State of the South” at Arkansas State, but the opportunity to be a head coach in the SEC West was too much to resist.

On Nov. 16, 2013, Auburn faced a fourth-and-18 against Georgia with 36 seconds left. Malzahn called a play named “Little Rock,” and quarterback Nick Marhsall hit Ricardo Louis on a tipped 73-yard pass to give Auburn the win.

Two weeks later in the Iron Bowl, Auburn returned a missed field goal 100 yards for a touchdown on the final play of the game against Alabama in one of the great finishes in college football history.

Auburn beat Missouri in the SEC championship game and led Florida State 21-3 in the national championship game before falling 34-31.

Malzahn seemed to be living a charmed life.

Things have been tougher since then.

Auburn was 8-5 in 2014, losing in the Outback Bowl.

The Tigers were just 7-6 in 2015, needing a victory in the Birmingham Bowl for a winning season.

There was lots of grumbling earlier this year when losses to Clemson and Texas A&M were sandwiched around a win over Arkansas State. Some speculated that Malzahn wouldn’t finish the season. The heat has eased somewhat with three consecutive victories going into the game against the Razorbacks.

Regardless of what happens the rest of the season, it has been quite a ride for the coach who thought “I would never get a chance again” after Hughes lost to Lonoke at War Memorial Stadium in 1994.

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