Archive for the ‘College football’ Category

College football: Week 1

Wednesday, August 31st, 2016

So what to make of these Razorbacks of 2016?

Bret Bielema, a man for whom the glass is always half full, enters his fourth season at the University of Arkansas thinking the Hogs have a chance to be in the running late in the season for an SEC championship.

Senior leadership is important in college football, and Bielema is a believer in this senior class. The captains are Dan Skipper, Kody Walker, Brooks Ellis and Deatrich Wise.

“One thing that’s very apparent with this team is we have great senior leadership,” Bielema says. “I don’t think I’ve ever, going into my 11th year as a head coach, been blessed to literally have a senior at every position. … They’re great role models, leaders and players.”

Redshirt junior Austin Allen is, of course, untested at quarterback but reportedly has looked good in preseason drills.

Enough of the preseason talk. It’s time to suit up and see how this edition of the Razorbacks looks at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium on what should be a beautiful Saturday afternoon.

Let’s get to the picks for Week 1:

Arkansas 40, Louisiana Tech 29 — Tech should provide a decent test for this Arkansas team even though the Bulldogs return just three starters on defense and six on offense from a team that went 9-4 overall and 6-2 in Conference USA last season. Coach Skip Holtz is 22-17 in his three seasons at Ruston. A major weapon is senior wide receiver Trent Taylor, who had 99 catches for 1,282 yards and nine touchdowns last year. Those who have departed include tailback Kenneth Dixon from Strong, quarterback Jeff Driskel and defensive tackle Vernon Butler, who was selected in the first round of the NFL draft by the Carolina Panthers. A media panel picked the Bulldogs to finish second in Conference USA West. Tech is one of just 18 FBS programs to win nine or more games in each of the past two seasons.

Toledo 34, Arkansas State 31 — Razorback fans remember Toledo all too well. That’s the school that shocked Arkansas, 16-12, on Sept. 12 of last year at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock. Two weeks later, Toledo easily disposed of Arkansas State, 37-7. The Rockets have a new head coach in Jason Candle, who had been an assistant at the school since 2009. Toledo was 10-2 in 2015, its sixth consecutive winning season. This is a rare Friday night game (I hate Friday night college football since it infringes on the high school game, but television now calls the shots) in Jonesboro. It will be the third game between the two schools in the past three seasons. The Rockets also defeated Arkansas State in January 2015 (63-44) in the GoDaddy Bowl. On offense, the Rockets return two All-MAC running backs, senior Kareem Hunt and junior Terry Swanson. Blake Anderson is 16-10 in two years at ASU, including a 9-4 record last year when the Red Wolves went to the New Orleans Bowl (and fell 47-28 to Louisiana Tech). ASU lost key skilled position players. The Red Wolves likely will play both Chad Voytik and Justice Hansen at quarterback Friday.

UCA 28, Houston Baptist 17 — The Bears open at home Thursday. UCA finished 7-4 a year ago, making Steve Campbell 13-10 in his two years as the head coach. Five starters return on defense, and four starters return on offense. Houston Baptist was 2-9 last season and 0-8 in the Southland Conference. The Bears won last year’s meeting in Houston, 43-7, and should be able to roll to victory again Thursday on the stripes in Conway despite having a young team. Campbell says several new assistant coaches have infused a sense of energy into the program. It probably won’t be enough for a conference championship given the number of first-time starters, but the Bears appear poised for another winning season.

Tennessee State 19, UAPB 16 — Two teams that struggled a year ago square off in Nashville on Saturday. UAPB was 2-9 overall and 1-8 in the SWAC last year. Tennessee State finished the season 4-6. The Golden Lions have had three consecutive losing seasons. UAPB won a SWAC title in 2012 but has gone 8-25 since then. Head coach Monte Coleman added four new coaches to his staff in an attempt to address the problems. Last year, UAPB averaged just 19.5 points per game. That ranked ninth in the conference and 93rd nationally. We’ll give a slight edge to the home team in what should be a close game.

Ouachita 30, East Central Oklahoma 22 — Ouachita has had eight consecutive winning seasons, the most of any college program in the state. The Tigers were 10-0 in the regular season two years ago en route to a Great American Conference championship but fell to 7-4 last year. There are, however, 17 starters returning. A key to the season will be how junior Austin Warford out of Malvern performs at quarterback in his second season as a starter. East Central always plays Ouachita tough, and Thursday night’s game at Cliff Harris Stadium in Arkadelphia should be no exception. East Central finished 6-5 last year, including a 31-24 loss to Ouachita in the season opener at Ada.

Henderson 41, Southeastern Oklahoma 27 — The Reddies also open at home in Arkadelphia on Thursday night. Henderson has won three of the past four GAC titles and is favored by most people to win the conference again this year. The Reddies were 11-2 in 2015 and won an NCAA Division II playoff game for the first time. There are six All-GAC performers returning. Among that group is JaQuan Cole, who led the GAC in rushing last year with 1,189 yards. There also are four offensive linemen returning to block for Cole. Southeastern Oklahoma was 6-5 last season.

Arkansas Tech 44, Southern Nazarene 21 — Arkansas Tech was 9-3 last year, including a victory over Eastern New Mexico in the Heart of Texas Bowl. It was the Wonder Boys’ best record since 2009, but Tech must find a way to replace quarterback Arsenio Favor and defensive standout Logan Genz. Still, the Wonder Boys should start the season 3-0 with the first three opponents being Southern Nazarene, Oklahoma Baptist and the University of Arkansas at Monticello. Southern Nazarene, which comes to Russellville on Thursday night, was 1-10 in 2015.

Southwestern Oklahoma 35, Southern Arkansas 33 — This could be the best of the GAC games in the first week of the season as the Muleriders make the long trip to Weatherford, Okla., for a Thursday night game. Southern Arkansas returns 15 starters from a 7-4 team. Quarterback Barrett Renner was a first team all-conference selection as just a freshman, passing for 3,333 yards and 33 touchdowns. He also has four of his top five receivers returning. Renner set team records for passing attempts, pass completions, touchdowns and total yards in a season. Southwestern Oklahoma was 8-3 a year ago and has high expectations for this season. We’ll give the edge to the home team in a game that could easily go either way.

Northwestern Oklahoma 25, UAM 23 — Again, let’s give a small edge to the home team. This is a battle between programs that struggled a year ago. Northwestern Oklahoma was 3-8, and UAM was 1-10. The Boll Weevils have won just three games the past two seasons.

Harding 50, Oklahoma Baptist 20 — The Bisons were 7-4 in 2015 following three consecutive 9-2 seasons. Harding has a 75.5 winning percentage in GAC games since the conference was formed in 2011 and expects to be strong again in the final season for head coach Ronnie Huckeba, who became an assistant at the school in 1986. Oklahoma Baptist finished 2-9 last year as it struggled to make the move up from the NAIA to NCAA Division II. Harding returns its quarterback and top two running backs from a team that averaged 377 yards per game rushing in 2015. Harding should have no problem in Searcy on Saturday night against Oklahoma Baptist.

 

 

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Red: Born to coach

Tuesday, January 5th, 2016

There must be something in the soil in those pine woods of south Arkansas, something that produces football coaches.

Paul “Bear” Bryant, the greatest college coach ever, came out of the Moro Bottoms and played high school football at Fordyce.

Barry Switzer was a product of Crossett.

Larry Lacewell likes to say he was “a bug all my life” — a Chigger and Redbug at Fordyce and then a Boll Weevil at what’s now the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

Tommy Tuberville played high school football at Camden Harmony Grove and college football at Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia.

Sam Bailey, who was Bryant’s right-hand man for years, came out of rural Union County and played his college football at what was then Magnolia A&M (now SAU) for two years and at Ouachita for two years.

Legendary Henderson head coach Ralph “Sporty” Carpenter hailed from Hamburg.

I could go on and on.

No one worked at it longer, though, than Jimmy “Red” Parker, who died Monday at age 84.

Parker coached his last game on the evening of Friday, Nov. 13. His Benton Harmony Grove team lost to Fordyce, 22-8, in the first round of the Class 3A playoffs at Paul “Bear” Bryant Stadium in Fordyce.

Parker was born in 1931 — in the middle of the Great Depression — to Madelyn and Floyd Raymond Parker of Hampton in Calhoun County.

“As a young boy in Hampton, there were only two things that Parker ever dreamed of becoming,” Doug Crise wrote for the Pine Bluff Commercial back in 2003. “And neither of them had anything to do with football. ‘One of them was to be a big league baseball player,’ Parker said. ‘The other one was to be a cowboy.’ Parker spent his youth throwing himself into his twin passions — playing baseball and riding horses and bulls.

“When he moved with his mother to Rison, the cowboy interests faded when he was introduced to football. While his dreams were still pointed toward the diamond, Parker at least now had a more viable fallback option. ‘The only thing I ever had in my mind was playing big league baseball or being a big league football coach,’ Parker said. ‘I don’t know if it was a calling, and I don’t know if it was elimination. But those were the two things that motivated me, and I knew I could be happy doing them.'”

Parker graduated from Rison High School in 1949 and headed to Arkansas A&M, where he was a halfback for the Boll Weevils from 1949-52.

“In 1953, Parker was a young man with ample confidence and a $10,000 signing bonus sitting on the table courtesy of the Detroit Tigers,” Crise wrote. “The Tigers didn’t have confidence in Parker’s ability to hit a major league fastball, but aptitude tests revealed the 21-year-old to possess what it took to be a future manager. For Detroit, it seemed like a wise investment. The problem was that Parker had a wife and child, and no desire to move to Warsaw, Wisc., to play for the Tigers’ low-level minor league team.”

Parker’s wife, Betty Ann, also hailed from south Arkansas — from Herbine in Cleveland County, to be exact. She died last April after 64 years of marriage. The Parkers are survived by three children — Vicki Wallace of Hot Springs, Cindy Yoos of South Carolina and Jim Mack Parker of Bryant.

“I hated cold weather, so I said, ‘I’m going to Fordyce,'” Parker said of the offer to play professional baseball.

Crise wrote of Parker’s decisions to take over the struggling Fordyce football program: “Clearly, this was the road less traveled. Parker admits now that he didn’t know then what it took to turn a young man into a winner. Relatively young himself, Parker attacked his first coaching gift with equal parts enthusiasm and instinct.”

Parker said: “I guess I just had enough gall to think I could do that. It was gall. It wasn’t ability. … I didn’t have a philosophy then. I didn’t know until the third year that I coached that I didn’t really have a philosophy.”

Parker was eager to learn. He used his own money to travel to Florida for a coaching clinic. While there, he met one of the nation’s most famous coaches, Bud Wilkinson from the University of Oklahoma.

“For some reason, Bud Wilkinson just took a liking to me,” Parker said. “I just kind of got into his head and listened. I was running plays and calling defenses and had no idea of what it was all supposed to mean together. He made me understand.”

Parker coached at Fordyce from 1953-60, compiling a record of 76-15-4. The Redbugs had a 37-game winning streak from 1957-60.

His college alma mater called, and Parker moved down the road from Fordyce to Monticello, where he was the head coach of the Boll Weevils from 1961-65. He won two Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference championships there, and his teams from 1963-65 had a combined record of 24-5-1. He was 29-19-2 overall with records of 2-8 in 1961, 3-6-1 in 1962, 9-1 in 1963, 8-2 in 1964 and 7-2-1 in 1965.

Parker’s climb up the coaching ladder continued when The Citadel, a well-known military school in South Carolina, took notice. Parker coached there from 1966-72, compiling a 39-34 record.

Parker was hired to replace Hootie Ingram at Clemson University following the 1972 season.

“Losses were more frequent than wins during Parker’s four-year stint with the Tigers, but his recruiting work laid the foundation for Clemson’s return to national prominence in the late 1970s under Charley Pell,” Rudy Jones wrote for the Spartanburg Herald-Journal in South Carolina in 2013. “At least 11 members of the Clemson Athletic Hall of Fame played under or were recruited by Parker.”

Parker was 17-25-2 at Clemson. His Tiger teams went 5-6, 7-4, 2-9 and 3-6-2. He was fired following the 1976 season and replaced by Pell, a man he had hired as an assistant.

Pell’s first team went 8-4. That began a streak of 15 consecutive winning records at Clemson, which won the national championship in 1981 under Danny Ford and will play for another national championship next week.

Parker always felt he was betrayed by Pell.

Pell had been an all-conference guard and defensive tackle for Bryant at Alabama from 1961-63. He was a graduate assistant for Bryant in 1964 and then was an assistant coach at Kentucky from 1965-68. Pell’s first head coaching job came at Jacksonville State in Alabama, where he compiled a 33-13-1 record. He left Jacksonville to become the defensive coordinator at Virginia Tech, where he stayed for two seasons before being hired in 1976 by Parker to be the defensive coordinator at Clemson.

Parker said Bryant had warned him that Pell was deceitful but “I was too arrogant to listen.”

Pell’s first Clemson team as head coach went to the Gator Bowl. It was the school’s first bowl invitation in 18 years.

“We took a whole lot of lumps that last year I was there, but we knew we were going to be good, and we knew we had a chance to be outstanding,” Parker said. “I didn’t mind taking the lumps, but I really didn’t plan on Pell knifing me. That was the one thing I didn’t plan. Everything else I had laid out pretty well.”

Steve Fuller, Parker’s Clemson quarterback, said: “The thing I remember about Coach Parker is he worked so hard to get the thing turned around and got such a recruiting group with my group and the group after me. The way things turned out, he just never got a chance to enjoy the success of that group and what was generally the turnaround of the whole program. It’s a shame. I know it’s part of the business. I can’t say we were shocked, but certainly disappointed and kind of uneasy about the situation. … I think I can make the argument — anybody can — that we would have been pretty good the next year if you or I had coached them.”

Pell’s second team at Clemson went 10-1 and won the Atlantic Coast Conference title.

Pell was hired at Florida at the end of the 1978 season and left immediately. Assistant coach Danny Ford coached the Tigers in the Gator Bowl. That was the game that led to Woody Hayes being fired at Ohio State. The Tigers were leading the Buckeyes 17-15 late in the game, but freshman quarterback Art Schlichter was driving the Buckeyes into field goal range. On third-and-five at the Clemson 24 with 2:30 left in the game, Hayes called a pass play. The pass was intercepted by Clemson’s Charlie Bauman, who ran out of bounds on the Ohio State sideline. After Bauman stood up, Hayes punched him in the throat and then stormed the field to argue with the referee.

Hayes was dismissed the next day.

Ford, meanwhile, was hired to replace Pell at Clemson.

Pell’s first team at Florida went 0-10-1. But the Gators improved to 8-4 in 1980, 7-5 in 1981, 8-4 in 1982 and 9-2-1 in 1983.

Following the 1982 season, the NCAA began an investigation into recruiting violations by Pell and his staff. Pell announced in August 1984 that he would resign at the end of the season. Three games into the season, the NCAA announced that Florida was alleged to have committed 107 infractions. Pell, whose team was 1-1-1, was fired that night and replaced by Galen Hall.

Pell fell into a deep depression that lasted for years. He attempted suicide in 1994 and died of lung cancer in 2001.

Red Parker returned to Arkansas after being fired at Clemson and bought a Chevrolet dealership in Fordyce, where he was still a hero.

Feeling the urge to get back into coaching, he headed to Nashville and Vanderbilt University in 1980 at the behest of George MacIntyre (whose son Mike is now the head coach at Colorado), a friend who was in his second year at the school.  Vanderbilt struggled to a 2-9 record that season (0-6 in the Southeastern Conference), but Parker again had the coaching bug.

Southern Arkansas University offered him its head coaching job, and he led the Muleriders to a 7-3 record in 1981. That led to an offer to be the head coach across the Mississippi River at Delta State University in Cleveland, Miss., where Parker compiled a 34-26-4 record from 1982-87.

Parker attracted the attention of Billy Brewer at Ole Miss. Brewer hired Parker to be the Rebels’ offensive coordinator, and Parker was part of Ole Miss teams that finished with records of 5-6 in 1988, 8-4 in 1989, 9-3 in 1990 and 5-6 in 1991.

After four years at Oxford, Parker returned to Fordyce and his automobile dealership. But the football bug was still there.

In 1993, Parker returned to the high school coaching ranks for the first time since 1960. The destination: His alma mater at Rison.

Parker was 38-4 in three seasons at Rison, including a Class A state championship in 1995 when his team went 15-0.

To the west in Arkadelphia, another legend, Buddy Benson, had decided to step down as the head coach at Ouachita following 31 seasons. The school’s president, Ben Elrod, was a Rison native and a longtime friend of Parker’s. Elrod called and asked if Parker would like to take one more shot at being a college head coach.

Parker accepted.

Ouachita, the smallest college in the state still playing football at the time, was struggling to make the move from the NAIA to NCAA Division II following the dissolution of the Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference. Parker’s teams there went 3-7, 4-6 and 3-7. Ouachita played as a Division II independent the first season and was a member of the Lone Star Conference the next two years.

Parker decided that the college job needed a younger man. But high school football? That was another matter.

He went to Bearden at the start of the 1999 season and compiled a 26-16-4 record in four seasons as the Bear head coach.

In 2003, Parker returned to where it had begun, Fordyce. He was the coach there from 2003-05, but he couldn’t reproduce the magic of the 1950s. The Redbugs were 11-20-1 when Parker resigned at the end of the 2005 season.

Most people thought Parker had finally retired for good, but he was talked into heading up the tiny program at Woodlawn in 2008. His team there went 7-4.

After Parker’s wife was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, he moved to Saline County to be near his son. Benton Harmony Grove was starting a football program, and Parker had an interest in helping out.

“About three or four days after I moved here, the school decided it wanted to have football,” Parker told an interviewer in 2013. “I called the superintendent, and he said he would hire me today if I would come. It just worked out that way. I work half a day. … What I’m doing is more like babysitting. Really and truly, it’s not like coaching because it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to do: Teach kids to play football who never have played before. My heart played out two years ago.”

Parker had what’s known as a ventricular assist device inserted in 2010 to help fight congestive heart failure. In 2011, a mechanical pump was inserted.

“I was really too old for them to do it, but I had a doctor that I had coached when I coached in high school the first time,” Parker later told an interviewer. “He was a noted heart surgeon, and he told the doctors here: ‘He can survive. Don’t you worry about him.’ He talked them into doing it.”

Parker’s first team at Harmony Grove went 2-8 in 2010. The second and third teams were 4-6.

Parker finished with a record of 28-35 in six seasons at the school.

His combined record as a college and high school head coach in a career that began in 1953 and ended in 2015 was 322-221-13.

He told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in October: “I struggle walking. I struggle standing. I struggle doing everything. To be honest, I’m worn out.”

Back in 2003, Parker had told the Pine Bluff Commercial: “No matter how bad we are, I always feel like there’s going to be something happen to give us a chance to win. What I don’t do now is I don’t get nervous before a game because I know we’ve prepared well. I can honestly say that once the game begins, I don’t know the difference between Neyland Stadium and Redbug Field.”

He was born to be a coach.

Like Paul “Bear” Bryant, he was dead within weeks of his final game.

 

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Give me Liberty (Bowl)

Monday, December 28th, 2015

Bud Dudley had a dream.

At a time when there were far fewer bowl games than there are now, the former athletic director at Villanova wanted a bowl in Philadelphia. Its name would be the Liberty Bowl, and its logo would be the Liberty Bell.

Dudley was the only person in college football history to create and then become the sole owner of a bowl game. Dudley, a Notre Dame graduate and a World War II veteran, died in June 2008 at age 88.

The game was marred by poor attendance during its five seasons in Philadelphia. The first game in 1959 drew 36,211 fans as Penn State defeated Alabama by a final score of 7-0. The crowds got smaller in each of the next four years.

“Spectators were lashed by icy winds as they huddled in Municipal Stadium for the inaugural Liberty Bowl,” Frank Fitzpatrick later wrote in the Philadelphia Inquirer. “Piles of snow impeded their trips to concession stands. And several swore their coffee froze before they could return to their seats.”

Penn State graduate Bill Jaffe told the newspaper, “That was the coldest I’ve ever been at a football game.”

“Overhead, an airplane, tilting in the heavy gusts as it dragged an ad for General Copper & Brass, provided shivering spectators with perhaps the afternoon’s most entertaining moment,” Fitzpatrick wrote. “Wind tore away the sign’s second S, an act of alchemy that instantly transformed metal to lingerie.

“On the field below — far, far below in a stadium notorious for its poor sight lines — the football played by Penn State and Alabama never really thawed out either, the teams combining for just seven points. But had those frostbitten Penn State players and fans been aware, they might have been warmed by the knowledge that what that first Liberty Bowl lacked in amenities, it made up for in history. Until that 7-0 loss to Penn State, Alabama had never faced an integrated opponent in its 67-year football history.

“The first of 24 consecutive Alabama teams that Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant would take to bowl games was all white. The Nittany Lions’ roster included a handful of blacks, including tackle Charlie Janerette, a Philadelphian. Janerette would be shot to death during a 1984 confrontation with a Philadelphia policeman. A jury later found police to be negligent and awarded the ex-player’s family $188,000.”

When Alabama accepted the bowl invitation, the chairman of the Tuscaloosa Citizens Council wrote to Frank Rose, the Alabama president: “We strongly oppose our boys playing an integrated team. The Tide belongs to all Alabama, and Alabamians favor continued segregation.”

Bryant, however, ignored the segregationists back home.

Dudley would say years later, “Every year the weather would be fine until the day of the game. I was looking for a way to merge patriotism and football. And I still think it could have worked in Philadelphia if only it weren’t for the cold.”

The other eights bowls at the time — Cotton, Sugar, Rose, Orange, Gator, Tangerine, Sun and Bluebonnet — were all played in warmer locations.

The 1959 game’s only score came on a trick play. Alabama finished 7-2-2, and Penn State finished 9-2. The teams passed for a combined 68 yards on the windy day.

Dudley had scheduled a dinner for the players that night at a downtown hotel. Longtime Philadelphia Daily News writer Stan Hochman, who covered the game from an unheated press box, said Dudley “was working on a shoestring, a tattered shoestring. They ran out of food early in the buffet line.”

Hochman’s future wife was doing public relations work for the downtown hotel. She ran to the kitchen and convinced the staff to cook some hot dogs for the players. Dudley, meanwhile, had talked his friend Ed McMahon into bringing a relatively unknown comedian named Johnny Carson to perform after dinner.

By 1963, Mississippi State’s game against North Carolina State drew just 8,309 fans in Philadelphia.

Tourism promoters in nearby Atlantic City, looking for a way to bring people to town during what normally was a slow period in December, convinced Dudley to move the 1964 contest to Convention Hall (long the home of the Miss America pageant) for the first bowl game to be played indoors. Two inches of burlap was placed on top of the concrete floor, and sod was laid on top of that. Utah defeated West Virginia, 32-6. There were 6,059 people at the game.

Dudley decided the indoor venue would no longer work. He also decided that Philadelphia was too far north. He looked south, and Memphis greeted him with open arms.

Memphis had spent $4 million to build a stadium in 1965 to replace aging Crump Stadium. The original seating capacity was 50,160, and what’s now the University of Memphis would play its home games there. It was to be known as Memphis Memorial Stadium and would be at the Mid-South Fairgrounds along with the Mid-South Coliseum and the Libertyland amusement park.

The mayor of Memphis had a sports committee charged with finding other events for the new stadium. The committee’s chairman, Early Maxwell, learned that Dudley wanted to move the Liberty Bowl. Maxwell sent Memphis businessman Bill McElroy Jr. to Chicago in the summer of 1965 to meet with Dudley during the annual convention of the College Sports Information Directors of America. McElroy invited Dudley to attend the first regular-season game in the stadium between Ole Miss and Memphis. Dudley agreed to attend the game, and he was treated like a king by a who’s who of Memphis business and civic leaders.

Just a few months later, the 1965 Liberty Bowl was played in the new stadium. Ole Miss beat Auburn, 13-7.

Dudley’s intention was to move the bowl game every year or two to a city that didn’t have a bowl.

“After I got to Memphis, I never got to the other cities,” he said.

Coaches who have taken teams to the Liberty Bowl through the years include the likes of Lou Holtz, Steve Spurrier and Tom Osborne.

Four Heisman Trophy winners — Ernie Davis, Terry Baker, Doug Flutie and Bo Jackson — have played in the game.

Archie Manning played in the Liberty Bowl in December 1968, leading his Ole Miss Rebels to a 34-17 victory over Virginia Tech. Manning would lead the Rebels to a win over Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl the following year.

Holtz brought his North Carolina State Wolfpack to Memphis in 1973 and saw his team beat Kansas, 31-18.

Three years later, Bryant was back with the Crimson Tide, which posted a 36-6 victory over Terry Donahue’s UCLA Bruins.

Tom Osborne brought his Nebraska Cornhuskers to Memphis in 1977, and the Huskers beat North Carolina, 21-17.

In 1979, Joe Paterno brought his Penn State team and it edged Tulane, 9-6, in the only game in Liberty Bowl history in which a touchdown wasn’t scored.

The most notable game in Liberty Bowl history came on Dec. 29, 1982, because it marked Bear Bryant’s final game as a coach. Alabama came from behind in the second half to defeat Illinois, 21-15. Less than a month later, the most famous former Fordyce Red Bug was dead.

Arkansas lost in its first three visits to the Liberty Bowl — 14-13 to Tennessee in 1971, 21-15 to Auburn in 1984 and 20-17 to Georgia in 1987. In the game against Auburn, Bo Jackson ran for two touchdowns, including a 39-yard scamper late in the fourth quarter.

Arkansas finally got a Liberty Bowl win on Jan. 2, 2010. A field goal in overtime gave Bobby Petrino’s Hogs a 20-17 victory over East Carolina as the second-largest crowd in Liberty Bowl history — 62,742 — looked on in frigid weather.

With this being its fifth Liberty Bowl, Arkansas will now have more Liberty Bowl appearances than any other school. Ole Miss, Louisville, Mississippi State, Air Force, Alabama and East Carolina have been four times each.

The Liberty Bowl affiliated with Conference USA in 1996. The opponent in 1996 and 1997 was from the Big East. Beginning in 1998, the Liberty Bowl had second choice behind the Cotton Bowl between the WAC champion and a Southeastern Conference team. From 1999 to 2005, the Conference USA champion played the Mountain West champion all but two times. From 2006-13, the Conference USA championship game winner was contracted to play an SEC team. The game now features an SEC team against a Big 12 team. That contract, which began last year, runs through 2019. In the first game under the arrangement, Texas A&M defeated West Virginia, 45-37.

In February 2014, AutoZone extended its title sponsorship agreement through the 2019 season.

Were he still around, Bud Dudley would be smiling. With an SEC team, a Big 12 team, a presenting sponsor, an ESPN television contract and an ESPN radio contract, the Liberty Bowl has never been stronger.

It has come a long way since that cold afternoon of Dec. 19, 1959, in Philadelphia.

 

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The Most Southern City on Earth

Thursday, December 24th, 2015

In 1992, historian James Cobb’s book on the Mississippi Delta came out.

The title: “The Most Southern Place on Earth.”

Having spent four years as one of the two presidential appointees to the Delta Regional Authority, I have no doubt that Cobb got it right.

The city at the heart of the Delta — the place that serves as a regional hub for east Arkansas, north Mississippi, west Tennessee and the Missouri Bootheel — is Memphis.

That must make Memphis the Most Southern City on Earth.

Thousands of Arkansans will descend on Memphis next week to watch the University of Arkansas football team play Kansas State in the Liberty Bowl. Many of them — especially those from the northwest part of our state — will have no idea of the strong ties between the Bluff City and eastern Arkansas.

For decades, those who lived in the eastern half of the state read Memphis newspapers.

They listened to Memphis radio stations.

They watched Memphis television stations.

They went to Memphis to eat out and have a good time.

They went to Memphis to visit the doctor.

They went to Memphis to do their Christmas shopping.

A friend who grew up in the Arkansas Delta was fond of saying, “We thought that when you died, you went to Memphis.”

The connections between east Arkansas and Memphis have frayed some in recent decades.

As the newspaper war between the Arkansas Gazette and the Arkansas Democrat heated up in the 1980s, people who once had subscribed to The Commercial Appeal from Memphis began getting one of the Little Rock newspapers since subscription prices were steeply discounted.

Cable television opened up new worlds.

The perception became that Memphis was a dangerous, crime-ridden place. People in small towns in the northeast quadrant of Arkansas who once had driven to Memphis to go to the doctor and shop now went to Jonesboro to do those things. As a result, Jonesboro prospered as a regional center.

The late Willie Morris, who’s among my favorite writers, joked that the two most important cities in Mississippi are Memphis and New Orleans.

In some ways, despite the growth of Jonesboro, Memphis remains the most important city for east Arkansas.

It was 1935 when writer David Cohn from Greenville, Miss., penned these words: “The Mississippi Delta begins in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel and ends on Catfish Row in Vicksburg. The Peabody is the Paris Ritz, the Cairo Shepheard’s, the London Savoy of this section. If you stand near its fountain in the middle of the lobby … ultimately you will see everybody who is anybody in the Delta.”

Those words still ring true. I can’t count the number of famous people I’ve seen in the Peabody lobby through the years.

Razorback fans will hang out there in force next week, turning that ornate lobby into an Arkansas family reunion.

Julia Reed, the talented New Orleans-based writer who grew up at Greenville, describes the Peabody as a “legendary hotel where my great-grandfather stayed when he came to town to get hot-towel shaves and meet his cotton broker — and where he once dropped a pint of contraband liquor (this was when Tennessee was still, supposedly, dry) on the marble floor of the grand lobby. The doorman swept up the glass so fast no one was the wiser, and the current staff remains now as attentive.”

Reed went on note that the Delta “probably doesn’t officially begin at the Peabody’s address on Union Street, but there is no mistake that Memphis was the Delta’s spiritual capital and the Peabody its clubhouse. Jackson, our actual state capital, was two hours south of my hometown of Greenville, and therefore an hour closer, but we never even thought of going there. Like the bluesmen before us, we headed north, following the river on old Highway 1, before cutting over to the blues highway, U.S. 61, that takes you almost directly downtown.

“To us, the difference between the two cities could be summed up with a line from Peter Taylor’s excellent novel ‘A Summons to Memphis,’ with Jackson standing in for Nashville: ‘Nashville … is a city of schools and churches and Memphis is — well, Memphis is something else again. Memphis is a place of steamboats and cotton gins, of card playing and hotel society.’

“We knew exactly where we’d rather be, and we made the three-hour trek to Memphis with astonishing regularity. We went for school clothes and allergy shots, the Ice Capades and trips to the zoo. We saw movies, got our hair cut, ate barbecue. When we felt especially festive, we’d go just for dinner at the late lamented Justine’s, a justifiably famous Frenchish restaurant in a gorgeous old mansion, where we’d eat lump crabmeat swathed in hollandaise sauce and run into everybody we knew.”

The first Peabody Hotel was built by Robert Campbell Brinkley in 1869. He named it in honor of philanthropist George Peabody. The two men had met several years earlier on a ship bound for England. Brinkley’s reason for going to England was to find financing for a railroad linking Little Rock and Memphis. Brinkley later gave the hotel to his daughter, Anna Overton Brinkley, and her fiancé, Robert Snowden, as a wedding gift.

The Snowden family would have a connection to the hotel for the next 96 years (in addition to developing the Horseshoe Plantation across the river in Arkansas and building a home on Horseshoe Lake).

“The hotel was magnificent,” a history of the Peabody states at www.historic-memphis.com. “It had 75 gas-lit rooms with private bathrooms, a first-class dining room, shops, entertainment, a large and beautiful lobby and a grand ballroom, where lavish balls were held. It was the place to see and been seen. The hotel was highly successful. Guests paid $3 to $4 for a room with meals included in the price. … After the turn of the century, the Peabody constructed a $350,000 addition at the back. It was an all-steel structure, the first of its kind in Memphis. But it wasn’t enough. In 1923, hotel management decided it was time for a new and larger building and closed the Main Street Peabody. They had negotiated with Lowenstein’s, who wanted to take over the corner and build a grand new department store.

“A block away at Second and Union, a new, bigger and better Peabody was scheduled to open within two years. Construction began on the new Peabody within a month after the old Peabody on Main closed. The new hotel was designed by Chicago architect Walter W. Ahlschlager with a plan for 625 rooms with baths. … The cost in 1925 was $5 million. For the 1925 opening of the Peabody, 1,200 preview party invitations were sent to the who’s who of the South. Everyone who was anyone wanted to be seen at Second and Union during the event. Once again the hotel established a reputation as the center of social life for the entire region. The grand new Peabody saw a steady stream of the wealthy and prominent congregate to dine and dance. It was the largest and most elegant hotel in the South.”

The story then picks up in the early 1950s: “During the 1950s, a nationwide move to the suburbs began. Memphians were no longer shopping regularly on Main Street, and downtown Memphis began to feel the pain. The Peabody was no exception. The hotel had many vacancies, and the restaurants were almost empty. The building was beginning to be in need of repairs, and by 1953 it was known that the Peabody was for sale. There were two bidders. … The hotel went to the Alsonett Hotel Group.

“It soon became obvious that the hotel would never be the same. Alsonett set aside tradition in favor of economy. Cost-cutting practices were evident everywhere. Downgrading was the name of the game. And any profits were used to upgrade Alsonett properties elsewhere. The profitable convention business completely disappeared. The hotel faced huge debts and was unable to get financing. In 1965, the grand old Peabody was forced into foreclosure.

“The auction began in December 1965. Robert B. Snowden placed the winning bid. Within 48 hours, he sold the Peabody to the Sheraton chain. … Snowden knew that Sheraton was going to improve the hotel. And Sheraton assured Memphis that all Peabody traditions would remain the same and set about restoring the old building. But they neglected to mention there would be a name change. For the next nine years, the hotel would be called the Sheraton-Peabody. Memphians felt this was better than nothing.

“Sheraton really tried. Unfortunately the steady decline of downtown Memphis continued, at a much faster pace after the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In December 1973, Sheraton-Peabody closed the doors and posted a for-sale sign. … The Peabody had a short reprieve in 1974 when a group of Alabama investors reopened the hotel. But it was doomed to failure and by April 1, 1975, this group was forced to declare bankruptcy, and the Peabody was put up for public auction by the county.”

Belz Enterprises bought the hotel for $400,000 in July 1975. Six years and $25 million later, it reopened and has been going strong ever since.

A number of those Razorback fans next week will leave the Peabody lobby, cross the street and walk down the ally to Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous for ribs. Though it has become fashionable for foodies to turn their noses up at the Rendezvous for being too touristy, it remains a Memphis landmark.

Vergos cleaned up a basement below his diner in 1948, discovered a coal chute and decided that it would give him a vent, allowing him to smoke ribs in addition to serving sandwiches. Vergos was a major force in the revival of downtown Memphis. When he died, the city’s mayor described him as an “icon for saving downtown.” His three children continue to run the restaurant.

The famous Peabody ducks even have an Arkansas connection.

Frank Schutt, the hotel’s general manager from 1925-56, and one of his friends had been duck hunting in east Arkansas one day in 1932. They had too much to drink that evening at the hotel and put their live decoys (which were allowed in those days) in the lobby fountain.

The guests loved it.

Schutt decided to train mallards to walk into the fountain each morning and exit the lobby each evening. The daily tradition continues.

Have fun in Memphis next week, Hog fans.

The Most Southern City on Earth has a knack for welcoming visitors from Arkansas.

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College football: Week 13

Tuesday, November 24th, 2015

What could I possibly say about last Saturday’s 51-50 Mississippi State victory over Arkansas that hasn’t already been said?

For the first time in school history, Arkansas lost after scoring 50 or more points.

Brandon Allen’s seven touchdown passes set a school record and tied the Southeastern Conference record, and his team still lost.

Arkansas’ defense allowed the most passing yards in school history, 508. The previous high for a Razorback opponent was 499 yards passing by Kentucky’s Tim Couch in 1998.

So the Razorbacks enter the final game of the regular season with a mediocre record of 6-5. Most Hog fans were expecting better, at least eight or nine wins.

What a strange season this has been.

Back in the preseason, no one was expecting losses to Toledo and Texas Tech.

And only the most optimistic Arkansas fans were expecting the Hogs to beat Ole Miss and LSU on the road in back-to-back games.

The regular season will end at Fayetteville on what looks to be a rainy, chilly Friday afternoon against a bad Missouri team that’s 5-6 overall and 1-6 in the SEC. There likely will be as many empty seats as seats with people in them at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. It’s a Black Friday clunker of a game for CBS, though the “reported attendance” will be much higher than the actual attendance, as is usually the case.

This is the final week to pick college football games on the Southern Fried blog. The record after 12 weeks is 72-23.

Here are the picks for Week 13:

Arkansas 39, Missouri 30 — Expect Arkansas to score its share of points, but no lead is safe with this Razorback defense. The defense gave up 51 points to Mississippi State, 52 points to Ole Miss and 46 points to Auburn. Razorback fans should hope that the defense that only surrendered 14 points at LSU chooses to show up. Coach Gary Pinkel, who led his Tigers to SEC East titles the previous two seasons, is going out with a whimper. Missouri’s lone SEC victory was by a score of 24-10 to an awful South Carolina team, which lost last Saturday to The Citadel. The last time The Citadel had won against an SEC team was in the 1992 season opener. Anyone out there remember that game? The Tigers’ six SEC losses have been by scores of 21-13 to Kentucky, 21-3 to Florida, 9-6 to Georgia, 10-3 to Vanderbilt, 31-13 to Mississippi State and 19-8 to Tennessee. Advantage Razorbacks with a bowl appearance in Nashville or Memphis to follow.

Arkansas State 29, New Mexico State 21 — The Red Wolves have had two weeks to prepare for Saturday afternoon’s game at New Mexico State. They’re 7-3 overall and 6-0 in the Sun Belt Conference with two games remaining in the regular season. New Mexico State lost 10 of its first 11 games against Sun Belt opponents after rejoining the conference in 2014. After an 0-7 start this season, the Aggies have won three consecutive games and don’t figure to be a pushover on Saturday. New Mexico State started the season with losses of 61-13 to Florida, 34-32 to Georgia State, 50-47 to UTEP, 38-29 to New Mexico, 52-3 to Ole Miss, 56-26 to Georgia Southern and 52-7 to Troy. The wins the past three games have been by scores of 55-48 over Idaho, 31-21 over Texas State and 37-34 over Louisiana-Lafayette. The Red Wolves will earn at least a share of the conference title with a victory Saturday. Appalachian State and Georgia Southern are right behind ASU at 5-1 in conference play. ASU ends the regular season in Jonesboro on Dec. 5 against a Texas State team that’s 3-7 overall and 2-4 in conference play.

Emporia State 28, Henderson 24 — The Reddies came up with an interception in the end zone with 10 seconds remaining on a cold afternoon in Arkadelphia en route to a 23-16 victory over Sioux Falls of South Dakota last Saturday in the first round of the NCAA Division II playoffs. The Reddies, the Great American Conference champions, recorded their first playoff win since moving to NCAA Division II in 1993. The GAC had been 0-5 in the playoffs since being formed in 2011. Henderson has won 10 consecutive games, and seven of them have been by eight points or less. Emporia State shocked Minnesota State-Mankato, 51-49, to earn this week’s trip to Arkadelphia. Emporia is 10-2, having lost to Fort Hays State and the powerhouse Northwest Missouri State team. The Hornets have an offense that has scored 45 or more points six times this season. Does Henderson’s ability to win the close games finally end in the second round? This should be a fun one to watch.

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College football: Week 12

Thursday, November 19th, 2015

What a night in Baton Rouge.

Back when Arkansas was sitting at 1-3, who would have thought that the Razorbacks would become bowl eligible with two games still remaining in the regular season?

Not me.

The 31-14 win over LSU was convincing, to say the least. This is, mind you, a Tiger team that was No. 2 in the country when Jeff Long’s committee released its first rankings of the season. Arkansas made the Tigers look like UTEP, and the vast majority of the 101,699 people in Tiger Stadium had headed back outside to their gumbo pots long before this one was over.

Arkansas outrushed LSU 299-57, had a season-high five sacks and saw Alex Collins move past Dickey Morton into third on the school’s career rushing list with 3,335 yards. Collins topped 100 yards for the eighth time this season and the 15th time in his college career.

Coach Les Miles, who is 48-6 in night games at Tiger Stadium, has only seen a team lose two consecutive games on three occasions during his tenure in Baton Rouge. The second loss each time was to Arkansas. This was the first time for the Tigers to lose back-to-back games by double digits since 1999.

We were 5-2 on the picks last week to make the record 70-21 for the season. Here are the picks for Week 12:

Arkansas 34, Mississippi State 26: This should be an interesting game on what promises to be a cold night in Fayetteville. Alabama had no problem with Mississippi State in Starkville last Saturday, beating the Bulldogs by a final score of 31-6. It marked the eighth consecutive season for Mississippi State to lose to Alabama. Derrick Henry rushed for 204 yards and two touchdowns against the Bulldogs. Collins must be licking his chops after having seen that on film. Mississippi State’s three losses have come by scores of 21-19 to LSU, 30-17 to Texas A&M and the aforementioned 31-6 loss to Alabama. The victories have been over Southern Mississippi, Northwestern State of Louisiana, Auburn, Troy, Louisiana Tech, Kentucky and Missouri. In other words, not a big-time win in the bunch; certainly nothing to compared with the Arkansas road victories over Ole Miss and LSU the past two Saturdays. We picked against the Razorbacks in both of those games. We won’t make that mistake again.

Sam Houston State 29, UCA 27 — The Bears need a victory to have a chance of getting into the FCS playoffs. UCA improved to 7-3 overall and 7-1 in the Southland Conference with a 34-31 win last Saturday night at Nicholls State. It was the seventh victory in the past eight games for the Bears as Blake Veasley rushed for 139 yards on 30 carries. McNeese State, which edged UCA in Conway last month, continues to lead the conference. Sam Houston comes into Conway with an identical 7-3 record. Just like UCA, Sam Houston lost back-to-back games to start the season (Sam Houston lost to Texas Tech and Lamar while UCA lost to Samford and Oklahoma State) and then lost later in the season to McNeese. The Bearkats’ victories have been by scores of 63-14 over Houston Baptist, 34-28 over Stephen F. Austin, 59-7 over Incarnate Word, 49-21 over Abilene Christian, 37-7 over Nicholls State, 38-24 over Texas A&M-Commerce and 59-21 over Northwestern State. The two teams appear to be evenly matched. It should be a fun game, and I plan to be there.

Henderson 24, Sioux Falls 21 — The Reddies won the Battle of the Ravine, 21-17, in front of a crowd of 9,868 at Cliff Harris Stadium in Arkadelphia last Saturday afternoon. Henderson finished the regular season 10-1, and Ouachita finished 7-4. It was a well-played game with no turnovers. Neither defense gave up a long scoring play. Henderson had already wrapped up the Great American Conference title, but the win ensured that the first game of the NCAA Division II playoffs would be at home at Carpenter-Haygood Stadium. The opponent from South Dakota, the University of Sioux Falls, is a small Baptist school (smaller than Ouachita) that’s making its first appearance in the Division II playoffs since moving up from the NAIA. The Cougars are 9-2 and have won 21 of their past 24 games. The winner of Saturday’s game in Arkadelphia (noon kickoff) will play the winner of the game between Minnesota State and Emporia State. The Cougars were 36-12 with four national titles when they played in the NAIA. A year ago, they went 10-1 in the regular season and then beat Central Oklahoma in the Mineral Water Bowl. Henderson’s offense is not as good as last year. But the defense is much better. Give a slight advantage to the Reddies since Sioux Falls is the one making the long trip.

Mississippi Valley State 17, UAPB 15 — Well, somebody has to win this final game of the regular season. Both teams are 1-9. The Golden Lions fell by a final score of 49-31 to Grambling in the homecoming game at Pine Bluff last Saturday afternoon. Grambling, which is now 8-2 overall and 8-0 in the SWAC, led 35-3 at one point in the game. We’ll give a slight advantage to the home team. Both schools will be glad to see the season end.

 

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College football: Battle of the Ravine

Monday, November 9th, 2015

It’s the week of the Battle of the Ravine, one of the great college football rivalries (at any level) in America.

As I always point out to out-of-state reporters who call to ask questions about the rivalry, it’s the only college contest in which the road team doesn’t fly or bus to a game. It walks.

I’ve already done my annual story on the game here on the Southern Fried blog. So I won’t repeat that.

Here’s what I will say: Attending a Battle of the Ravine should be on every Arkansan’s bucket list. As I write this, the weather forecast for Arkadelphia on Saturday shows sunny skies and a high of 60. That’s what I call football weather.

And here’s the beauty of it for Razorback fans: The kickoff at Cliff Harris Stadium is at 1 p.m. The game should end by 4 p.m., giving most Arkansans time to be home for the Arkansas-LSU kickoff on ESPN at 6:15 p.m. So treat yourself to a fun day of college football: Ouachita vs. Henderson on a beautiful November afternoon followed by the Hogs’ game in Baton Rouge on television that night.

I finished my broadcast of Ouachita’s 58-7 victory over Southern Nazarene in Oklahoma City on Saturday afternoon in time to hear the final seven minutes of the fourth quarter and the overtime of the Razorback victory on satellite radio. Sirius/XM used the Ole Miss broadcast since the Rebels were the home team, and it was interesting to hear the wild finish from that perspective.

Here’s how Rebel analyst Harry Harrison described a fourth-down play that will live in Razorback history for as long as any of us are breathing: “That was luck to the Nth degree.”

Agreed.

But strange things can happen in college football (you might ask Alabama head coach Nick Saban about the final play against Auburn a couple of years ago). Arkansas still had to score the touchdown, and the Razorbacks still had to execute the two-point conversion.

The question now is whether the Hogs can come back down to earth after a truly epic football game and spring another road upset, this time in Baton Rouge.

It goes without saying that Tiger Stadium on a Saturday night isn’t the easiest place to win a football game. With back-to-back Southeastern Conference victories in overtime for the Hogs, and the fact that LSU looked vulnerable at Tuscaloosa, there’s now reason for hope for Arkansas.

We were 6-4 on the picks last week, our worst week of the season. However, the overall record is still a good 65-19.

Let’s get to the picks for Week 11 of the college football season:

LSU 30, Arkansas 28 — Yes, I expect Arkansas to play well. Alabama certainly looked liked a team primed to win the national championship in its 30-16 victory over LSU in Tuscaloosa on Saturday night. The Tide’s Derrick Henry moved ahead of LSU’s Leonard Fournette in the Heisman watch with 210 yards on the ground and three touchdowns. Fournette came into the game as the leading rusher at the FBS level but was held to 31 yards on 19 carries. Expect him to gain a lot more yards than that this week against Arkansas. Yet if Brandon Allen came have another performance like the one he had in Oxford (33 of 45 passing for 442 yards and six touchdowns), Arkansas will be in this game until the end. In its 122 years of football, Arkansas has won only five games in which it allowed 45 or more points. All five were overtime contests. Two of the five have come this season. Could we see another such game in Baton Rouge? It’s possible. It’s more likely, however, that this one will end in regulation, providing entertaining Saturday evening viewing for the ESPN audience.

Henderson 29, Ouachita 24 — There have been five football seasons in the short history of the Great American Conference, counting this one. And the championship trophy still has yet to leave Arkadelphia. Henderson has wrapped up the 2015 title to go along with the championships it won in 2012 and 2013. Ouachita won conference championships in 2011 and 2014. It has been an amazing run for the Arkadelphia schools (Henderson had undefeated regular seasons in 2012 and 2013, and Ouachita was undefeated last year in the regular season). Both teams are good again this year. Henderson comes into Saturday’s game at 9-1, and Ouachita is 7-3. The Reddies struggled on the road Saturday against a 2-8 Oklahoma Baptist team but did enough in the end to win by eight, 22-14. The Reddies then got a gift when Southwestern Oklahoma defeated second-place Arkansas Tech in Russellville, 28-14, to drop the Wonder Boys to 7-3 and ensure Henderson the crown regardless of what happens Saturday afternoon at Cliff Harris Stadium. Ouachita, meanwhile, warmed up for the game with that 58-7 victory over 0-10 Southern Nazarene. Having the conference’s last-place team on the schedule in the 10th game allowed the Tigers to rest most of their starters for a half coming into the Battle of the Ravine. Henderson leads NCAA Division II in interceptions with 24. Its defense is better than last year, but its offense isn’t nearly as good as it was under the leadership of quarterback Kevin Rodgers in 2012, 2013 and 2014. Ouachita’s young defense has given up big plays at inopportune times throughout the season. Blown coverages in the secondary have been commonplace. Advantage Henderson on defense. Advantage Ouachita on offense. Both teams have strong kicking games.

Arkansas State 35, Louisiana Monroe 22 — The Red Wolves went on the road to Boone, N.C., last Thursday and came home with an impressive 40-27 victory over an Appalachian State team that had entered the contest with a 7-1 overall record. ASU is now alone atop the Sun Belt Conference at 5-0 (6-3 overall), followed by Appalachian State at 4-1, Georgia Southern at 4-1 and Louisiana-Lafayette at 3-1. ASU has won five consecutive games. The Red Wolves trailed in the second half of three of those games. ASU had a 39-point fourth quarter against South Alabama, a 21-point fourth quarter against Georgia State and a 17-point third quarter against Appalachian State. The Red Wolves pay a visit to north Louisiana this Saturday to take on a weak Louisiana-Monroe team. The Warhawks are 1-8 and have lost seven consecutive games. The only victory was by a score of 47-0 over an FCS team, Nicholls State. The losses have been by scores of 51-14 to Georgia, 34-0 to Alabama, 51-31 to Georgia Southern, 34-24 to Tulsa, 59-14 to Appalachian State, 27-13 to Idaho, 30-24 to Louisiana-Lafayette and 51-14 to Troy.

UCA 31, Nicholls State 19 — The Bears moved to 6-3 overall and 6-1 in Southland Conference play with a 36-24 victory in Conway on Saturday night over a Stephen F. Austin team coached by former UCA head coach Clint Conque and quarterbacked by his son, Little Rock Catholic graduate Zach Conque. Stephen F. Austin fell to 3-4 in conference and 3-6 overall. UCA trailed 24-17 late in the third quarter before scoring the game’s final 19 points. Conque, who coached the Bears from 2000-13, was on the visitors’ sideline at Estes Stadium for the first time. McNeese State remains alone atop the Southland Conference standings at 8-0 following a 27-10 victory over Sam Houston State. UCA travels to far south Louisiana this Saturday to take on a Nicholls State team that’s only 2-5 in conference and 2-7 overall. The two victories were by scores of 38-17 over Houston Baptist and 30-28 over Lamar. The losses have been by scores of 47-0 to Louisiana-Monroe, 20-10 to Incarnate Word, 48-0 to Colorado, 37-7 to McNeese, 28-24 to Stephen F. Austin, 37-7 to Sam Houston State and 37-21 to Northwestern State. The Bears should be able to take care of business in Thibodaux on Saturday night and remain in the hunt for an FCS playoff spot.

Grambling 40, UAPB 20 — The long season just keeps getting longer for UAPB, which is 1-8 overall and 0-7 in the SWAC following a 57-24 loss to Southern University in Pine Bluff on Saturday. Southern jumped out to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter and never looked back. The Jaguars led 57-8 after three quarters before clearing the bench. The Grambling team that comes to Pine Bluff on Saturday afternoon leads the SWAC at 7-0 and is 7-2 overall. After starting the season with nonconference losses to California and Bethune-Cookman, the Tigers have run off seven consecutive conference victories by scores of 34-10 over Alabama State, 70-54 over Prairie View A&M, 59-27 over Jackson State, 37-14 over Alabama A&M, 35-34 over Alcorn State, 49-14 over Mississippi Valley State and 41-15 over Texas Southern. There’s no reason to believe that UAPB can be competitive in this game.

Harding 34, Arkansas Tech 27 — Harding and Arkansas Tech are both 7-3. The winner has a chance to be invited to serve as the GAC representative in the Live United Bowl at Texarkana on Dec. 5. Tech has exceeded the expectations its fans had early in the season, while Harding has fallen off since having started the season 4-0 and being ranked as high as No. 9 in NCAA Division II. The Bisons trailed 3-7 Northwestern Oklahoma by nine points in the fourth quarter at Searcy on Saturday before getting three touchdowns on the ground from Michael Latu in the final seven minutes to post a 42-30 victory. Tech, meanwhile, suffered that disappointing loss to Southwestern Oklahoma in Russellville. This should be a close game between two of the conference’s upper-tier teams.

Southern Arkansas 18, UAM 16 — A disappointing season for UAM comes to a merciful end on Saturday. The Boll Weevils are 1-9, having lost Saturday by a final score of 37-0 to 5-5 Southeastern Oklahoma. Southern Arkansas improved its record to 6-4 with a 35-26 victory over East Central Oklahoma, which is also now 6-4.

 

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Ravine time

Wednesday, November 4th, 2015

Those who know me well know that my favorite day of the year is the Saturday of the Battle of the Ravine.

There have been four Great American Conference championship trophies awarded in football since the GAC came into existence, and all four trophies reside in Arkadelphia — two at Ouachita Baptist University and two at Henderson State University.

Because both football programs have been good in recent years, this unique rivalry has received increased national attention.

Last month, Champion, the official magazine of the NCAA, featured the Battle of the Ravine in a story titled “The short walk.”

Jared Thompson wrote: “One college’s water turned purple. Across the road, red marshmallows rained from the sky. A future state governor set the other school’s party ablaze. One time, a homecoming queen was kidnapped. And no one recalls where the drag queens buried the tiger’s tail.

“This fall marks the 89th edition of the Battle of the Ravine. The pranks defining Division II’s oldest football series have been legendary. The football games have been extraordinary, too. The rivalry pits two schools separated by two lanes of U.S. Highway 67, over which the visiting team walks to its opponent’s field on game day in the shortest road trip in football. The ancestries supporting either side are entwined tighter than the kudzu that suffocates the nearby ravine from which the rivalry’s namesake was found. In Arkadelphia, you grow up cheering either for red or for purple. Yet credits transfer freely between the two schools, and students from one often take classes at the other. Where else might you see the starting quarterback sit next to an opposing lineman in biology class?”

When the writer called me for a quote, I told him that this is the small college version of Alabama-Auburn, a rivalry that divides families. As an Arkadelphia native, I also pointed out that it’s Christmas, New Year’s, Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day all rolled into one for that town.

“Tiger fans still express zeal about the 1975 matchup,” Thompson wrote. “Ouachita converted a fourth-and-25 play by one inch and scored on its final drive to upset a previously undefeated Henderson team, 21-20. Reddies, meanwhile, point to as recently as 2013, when they emerged victorious after a triple-overtime affair to complete a second consecutive undefeated season. Henderson leads the series 42-40-6. The first game was played in 1895; the matchup was resurrected in 1907 and interrupted for World Wars I and II. Then the pranks and vandalism escalated, and officials suspended the game for 12 years after the 1951 contest. Nowadays, when game week arrives, school signs are wrapped in protective plastic, garbage bags or tarps.”

In the late 1940s, the game was promoted as the Biggest Little Football Game in America, a moniker initially used on the East Coast for the NCAA Division III rivalry between Williams College and Amherst College, who first played in 1884. The Nov. 10, 2007, game between Williams and Amherst in Williamstown, Mass., was selected as the location for ESPN’s popular “College GameDay” program. One of these days, the folks at ESPN will make the wise decision to bring that program to Arkadelphia and show the only time in college football in which the visiting team walks to a road game.

Yes, early on the afternoon of Nov. 14, state troopers will stop traffic on Highway 67, and the Reddies will walk across to play at Ouachita’s Cliff Harris Stadium after having put on their uniforms in their own dressing room. Shortly after 4 p.m., the troopers will stop traffic again, and the Reddies will trudge back across the highway. Of the 88 battles between the two schools, the game has been decided by a touchdown or less 39 times with Ouachita holding a 19-14-6 advantage in those games. Last year’s game was a bit of an anomaly in that there was a 21-point final margin. Ouachita won 41-20 in 39-degree weather at Henderson’s Carpenter-Haygood Stadium en route to an undefeated regular season.

Some of the best national publicity ever received by the Battle of the Ravine came two years ago, a few days before that triple-overtime game. Gregg Doyel, then of CBSSports.com, wrote a lengthy piece titled “Battle of Ravine: Can’t sum up D-II’s oldest rivalry in a football game.”

Doyel wrote: “It’s not easy to make a mark with a prank because the best ones have been done. So have the worst. There’s the tiger on campus at Ouachita, for example. For years it was missing a tail because kids at Henderson would sneak over and clip it off and bury it somewhere. Ouachita would replace it. The kids at Henderson would clip the new tail and bury it somewhere else. Ouachita eventually built a fence around its signature statue, but it had a smaller one at the school library. A young man dressed in drag — everyone swears that’s what happened — talked the Ouachita security officer into giving him the tiger for its ‘regular cleaning.’ The statue came back clean. And without a tail.”

Doyel went on to tell the famous (famous in Arkadelphia at least) story of Ann Strickland, the Ouachita homecoming queen: “Ann Strickland grew up in the shadow of both schools. She attended Ouachita but knew lots of kids at Henderson, which is why she got in the car with a few of them in late November 1946, shortly after being named the Ouachita homecoming queen. The Battle of the Ravine was in two days. Ouachita’s homecoming queen had just been kidnapped by Henderson.

“The kidnapped Ouachita homecoming queen was dating Ouachita star defensive back Bill Vining, so it wasn’t just the town that was looking for Ann Strickland — it was the team, too. Vining and teammate Ike Sharp got word that Strickland was being held in Arkadelphia at the Caddo Hotel, and they pounded on doors looking for her. Good thing they didn’t find her. According to legend, Ike Sharp was wearing overalls. According to legend, he was hiding a shotgun under his clothes.”

The “friendly” kidnapping had seen Strickland entertained at a house on Lake Hamilton. She was returned before the game, which Ouachita won, 26-16.

Following a scoreless tie in 1947, Ouachita won again in 1948. In 1949, Henderson led 14-0 in the fourth quarter.

Doyel wrote: “Enter Ike Sharp. The guy with the overalls and the shotgun. Sharp successfully booted three onside kicks — the last one just for spite — as the Tigers scored three times in the final 10 minutes to win, 17-14.

“Move ahead to 1975, to a game many consider the greatest in series history. By then Bill Vining — boyfriend of the kindnapped homecoming queen — was the basketball coach at Ouachita, which now plays in Bill Vining Arena. Well, by 1975, Bill and Ann Vining’s son was the quarterback on the Ouachita football team. That year Henderson came in at 9-0, a game ahead of Ouachita at 8-1. In the final minute, Ouachita trailed 20-14 and faced fourth-and-25 when Bill Vining Jr. completed a 25-yard pass to Gary Reese. Two plays later, he threw a touchdown to Ken Stuckey, and Ouachita won 21-20 to take Henderson’s spot in the national playoffs.

“Ann Strickland Vining died in August 2009. Over the years the homecoming queen’s house up on a hill had become a hangout spot for kids in Arkadelphia. They learned to swim in the Vining pool. On snow days they trooped up the Vining hill with sleds. Some of those kids went to Ouachita. Some went to Henderson.”

I was one of those kids, having grown up a block from the Vining home in the neighborhood known as Ouachita Hills.

How deep are the family ties at these schools?

David Sharp, one of my closest friends and the Ouachita athletic director since 1999, is the son of the aforementioned Ike Sharp. Our fathers played football together at Ouachita in the 1940s. When my dad accepted the job of head football coach at Newport High School following his graduation from Ouachita in the spring of 1948, it was Ike Sharp who drove my parents to Jackson County since they didn’t own a car.

David and his older brother, Paul, played in the Battle of the Ravine and later coached in the series as Ouachita assistants. Each year when Ouachita and Southwestern Oklahoma meet on the gridiron, they’re playing for the Paul Sharp Trophy, named in honor of the late coach who led Southwestern Oklahoma to an NAIA national championship.

During his first year as athletic director in 1999, David had to deal with an incident that became known as Trashcam. A Henderson graduate assistant coach took a video camera into Arkadelphia’s Central Park, which overlooks the Ouachita practice fields. As he was taping the Tiger practice, the graduate assistant was seen by a Ouachita player. The cameraman, realizing he had been spotted, sped away in his car, leaving the camera in a nearby trash can. When the camera was found with a Henderson identification tag on it, David removed the tape and returned the camera to Henderson. It was the proper thing to do. Though the rivalry is intense, these folks have to live with each other all year. They sit in the same pews at church and find themselves next to each other in the waiting room at the doctor’s office.

To illustrate how families are divided by this rivalry, I give you none other than Cliff Harris, the former Dallas Cowboy star for whom Ouachita’s new stadium is named. Both Cliff and his father played for Ouachita. But his mother was a graduate of Henderson.

Though the stands and press box are new, the field at Ouachita is where it has been since the early 1960s. Even though the team for which I broadcast lost both times, two of the finest football games I’ve ever seen were the previous two Battles of the Ravine on that field.

Two years ago was the aforementioned three-overtime game as Henderson went undefeated in the regular season and Ouachita finished 7-3. The Reddies came in ranked fourth nationally in NCAA Division II by the American Football Coaches Association. Ouachita was only three or four plays away from being undefeated after close losses to Harding and Southern Arkansas.

This was a battle between two teams that simply refused to lose. Ouachita had Henderson down to fourth down twice in the second overtime — one play from victory — and both times the talented Reddie quarterback Kevin Rodgers completed passes that few other players in Division II could have completed. Even in defeat, Ouachita quarterback Benson Jordan (the grandson of former Ouachita head coach and Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame inductee Buddy Benson) played the best game of his career. It was a pleasure just to say you attended that game.

Four years ago, Ouachita had already wrapped up the first Great American Conference championship. The Reddies roared to a 41-17 lead in the third quarter behind the play of Rodgers, who was a freshman at the time. People began heading for the exits at that point.

Then, Ouachita quarterback Casey Cooper hit wide receiver Brett Reece for a six-yard touchdown. Next, Cooper found tight end Phillip Supernaw for an eight-yard touchdown. Finally, sophomore tailback Chris Rycraw scored on a 12-yard run with 3:47 left to make it a one-possession game, 41-36.

On the kickoff, Henderson fumbled, and Ouachita’s Ryan Newsom recovered at the Reddie 29. Henderson held on downs, and the Reddies got the ball back with 2:15 remaining. Henderson needed just one first down to be able to run out the clock. That first down never came. Christian Latoof’s punt carried 35 yards, and Ouachita took over at its 47 with 43 seconds on the A.U. Williams Field clock.

Cooper completed a 13-yard pass to Rycraw. Then, a 29-yard pass to Reece gave the Tigers the ball at the Henderson 11. On third-and-five from the Reddie six, Cooper completed a pass to Reece, who was pulled down a yard away from the end zone. A Cooper pass on first-and-goal was broken up by Chuck Obi.

The clock showed six-tenths of a second remaining. There was time for one play.

Rycraw got the ball on a dive up the middle. There was a huge pile at the goal line. None of the officials signaled touchdown, though fans on the home side thought Rycraw had scored. Henderson had held on, 41-36.

That played will be debated as long as anyone is still alive who attended the game. Henderson fans will tell you it rates among the greatest games in the history of the series. Ouachita fans will insist that Rycraw scored.

I’m a Ouachita man so, of course, I’ll tell you that the 1975 game was the best. In fact, it’s the best college football game I’ve ever seen, at any level.

I usually arrive at the stadium three hours in advance of a Battle of the Ravine to prepare for the broadcast. It was brutally cold as I got out of the car at Carpenter-Haygood Stadium last year, and the skies were cloudy. All I could think was: “It feels just like 1975.”

You see, the Battle of the Ravine and I go way back.

I was a high school student in 1975 and was on the Ouachita sideline that day.

I’m 56 now and still feel like a kid on Christmas morning when Battle of the Ravine day arrives.

It all started on Thanksgiving Day in 1895 as Ouachita defeated what was then known as Arkansas Methodist College by a final score of 8-0 on the Ouachita side of the ravine.

Long may it continue.

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College football: Week 10

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2015

Arkansas, Arkansas State and UCA all won on the same Saturday.

It was, in other words, a good Saturday for most college football fans in the state.

Alex Collins stole the show before a sparse homecoming crowd in Fayetteville as he rushed for 173 yards and a career-best five touchdowns in Arkansas’ 63-28 victory over Tennessee-Martin. Collins averaged 10.8 yards per carry and became only the third Razorback to score five touchdowns in a game. He became the fifth Hog to reach 3,000 career rushing yards. And apparently he wasn’t in hot water with his coach for being late to breakfast this time around. Maybe he borrowed an alarm clock from Ryan Mallett.

Quarterback Brandon Allen moved past Casey Dick and Matt Jones into fourth on the school’s career passing list. Allen now how 6,057 passing yards. He received the Crip Hall Award as the outstanding senior in the homecoming game as he went 14 of 19 through the air for 265 yards and two touchdowns. Little brother Austin Allen threw his first college touchdown pass, which went for 35 yards to Jeremy Sprinkle.

One cause for concern going into Saturday’s game against Ole Miss at Oxford is that the Hogs gave up 519 yards to the FCS opponent.

We were 8-2 on the picks last week. The record for the season is now 59-15.

Let’s get to the picks for Week 10:

Ole Miss 35, Arkansas 31 — The Rebels improved to 7-2 overall and 4-1 in the Southeastern Conference with a 27-19 victory at Auburn. The Gus Bus has a flat. The Tigers fell to 4-4 overall and 1-4 in the SEC. Ole Miss, the only team to beat Alabama thus far this season, can still capture the SEC West by winning out. If you’re wondering, Ole Miss and LSU play in Oxford on Nov. 21. The Hogs’ game at Oxford is the CBS afternoon game, the appetizer for LSU’s visit to Alabama that will be shown in prime time on the network. Ole Miss started the season 4-0, including that 43-37 victory in Tuscaloosa on Sept. 19. Reality hit with a 38-10 loss at Florida on Oct. 3 and a 37-24 loss at Memphis on Oct. 17 (an easy victory over New Mexico State was sandwiched between those two games). After the nonconference loss to Memphis, the Rebels have bounced back with SEC wins over Texas A&M (23-3) and Auburn. Expect this to be a close game. We’ll give the slight edge to the home team.

Appalachian State 30, Arkansas State 28 — The Red Wolves get more national television exposure — this time on ESPNU — with a Thursday night game at Appalachian State. It’s a battle for the Sun Belt Conference lead. Both teams are 4-0 in conference play. ASU improved to 5-3 overall in Jonesboro on Saturday night with a 48-34 victory over a Georgia State team that has won just one conference game in three seasons. Georgia State came into the game at 2-4 but led 27-20 at the half. The Red Wolves woke up in the second half and outscored their opponent 21-0 in the fourth quarter. Fredi Knighten was 21 of 29 passing for ASU for a season-high 224 yards. The Mountaineers beat Troy in triple overtime Saturday, 44-41, for their 10th consecutive Sun Belt win. They are 10-2 in conference play since joining the Sun Belt last season. Appalachian State is 7-1 overall this season.

UCA 27, Stephen F. Austin 24 — The Bears stayed alive in the Southland Conference race with a 21-16 homecoming victory over Southeastern Louisiana to go to 5-3 overall and 5-1 in conference play. Unfortunately for UCA, McNeese survived a scare against Abilene Christian and won 15-13 to stay alone atop the conference standings at 7-0. Blake Veasley and Dominique Thomas combined for 272 rushing yards for the Bears. Veasley, who has emerged as a star for UCA the past two weeks, had 192 of those yards. This Saturday afternoon sees the Lumberjacks of Stephen F. Austin come to Conway. The visitors, led by former Bear head coach Clint Conque, are 3-5 overall and 3-3 in conference play. UCA needs to win its final three games to have a chance at making the FCS playoffs.

Southern University 23, UAPB 10 — Things are going from bad to worse for the Golden Lions. UAPB fell to 1-7 overall and 0-6 in the SWAC last Saturday with a 54-29 loss at Prairie View A&M. The Golden Lions jumped out to a 14-0 lead, but the score was tied at 14-14 by halftime. Prairie View then ran off 26 consecutive points coming out of the break. UAPB, which has three conference games remaining, has not gone winless in conference play since 1997. Southern University comes into Pine Bluff this Saturday afternoon with a record of 4-4. Southern’s victories have come by scores of 50-13 over Mississippi Valley State, 50-31 over Jackson State, 45-34 over Alabama State and 40-21 over Texas Southern. The losses have been by scores of 62-15 to Louisiana Tech, 48-6 to Georgia, 47-42 to Prairie View and 48-7 to Alcorn State.

Henderson 29, Oklahoma Baptist 18 — The Reddies remain alone atop the Great American Conference with an 8-1 record following a 76-7 victory last Saturday in Arkadelphia over Southern Nazarene, which has lost 31 consecutive games. Henderson led 63-0 at halftime as junior quarterback Dallas Hardison out of Bentonville completed 10 of 13 passes for 166 yards and three touchdowns. The Reddies had 408 yards of offense in the first half, and Southern Nazarene had 31. Henderson defenders came up with three interceptions during the game. The Reddies lead NCAA Division II with 22 interceptions on the season. Oklahoma Baptist, in its first year in the conference, is 2-7 but has been competitive at times. The Bison took Harding into overtime, in fact, before losing the first game of the season.

Ouachita 48, Southern Nazarene 22 — Ouachita went to 6-3 on the season Saturday with a 31-20 victory at home against Oklahoma Baptist. The Tigers are 10-0 in conference games at Cliff Harris Stadium since the stadium opened last year and will use this week’s road trip to Oklahoma to warm up for the Nov. 14 Battle of the Ravine at the stadium students like to call The Cliff. Against Oklahoma Baptist, redshirt freshman Kris Oliver from Arkadelphia had 193 rushing yards and 84 yards receiving. He was named the GAC offensive player of the week.

East Central Oklahoma 26, Southern Arkansas 25 — On Oct. 24, Southern Arkansas came within a play of beating Henderson (the Reddies scored on the final play of the game) and being tied for the conference lead. On Halloween, the Muleriders lost their second consecutive game to fall to 5-4 on the season. It was a listless performance as SAU fell by a score of 35-13 to 4-5 Southeastern Oklahoma. The Savage Storm held the Muleriders to a negative two rushing yards. SAU quarterback Barrett Renner was sacked eight times. East Central comes to Magnolia with a 6-3 record after a 21-18 win over UAM. East Central handed Henderson its only loss in September.

Harding 40, Northwestern Oklahoma 19 — The Bisons fell to 6-3 with a 21-13 loss at Southwestern Oklahoma. Southwestern became the first team to outrush Harding in more than four years. The Bisons are usually strong at home and should roll against a Northwestern Oklahoma team that fell to 3-6 with a loss at home last week to Arkansas Tech.

Arkansas Tech 34, Southwestern Oklahoma 33 — The Wonder Boys are alone in second in the GAC at 7-2 following their 53-21 victory at Northwestern Oklahoma. Tech was led on the ground last week by Brayden Stringer and Bryan Allen, who had 155 and 148 yards respectively. The Wonders Boys finished the game with 535 yards of offense. Southwestern is 6-3 and has its best team in a number of years. This should be a fun game with the edge going to the home team.

Southeastern Oklahoma 32, UAM 17 — The Savage Storm has its confidence back following the impressive victory over SAU. UAM, meanwhile, is 1-8 after its loss at East Central. The Boll Weevils scored 15 consecutive points in the fourth quarter to put a scare into East Central, but Jamie McGee missed a 51-yard field goal attempt at the end that would have sent the game to overtime.

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College football: Week 9

Thursday, October 29th, 2015

Razorback fans finally had a reason to celebrate.

Granted, this is a bad Auburn team. But it was a victory that had to occur if Arkansas was to have any hope of getting to six victories and making it to a minor bowl game.

Razorback teams have now played in four games of four overtimes or more. It was shades of the Houston Nutt era. Arkansas won in seven overtimes at Ole Miss in 2001, lost in six overtimes at Tennessee in 2002, won in seven overtimes at Kentucky in 2003 and won in three overtimes at LSU in 2007 in Nutt’s last game as Arkansas’ coach.

The previous overtime win at Fayetteville prior to last Saturday was against Alabama in 2006. Arkansas defeated Mississippi State in two overtimes at Starkville in 2010. In the Bielema era, the Hogs had lost twice to Texas A&M and once to Mississippi State in overtime.

Brandon Allen moved past Barry Lunney Jr. into sixth on the school’s career passing list as the Arkansas offense went 11 of 18 on third and fourth downs. Kody Walker and Drew Morgan scored two touchdowns each in overtime,

Now, it’s on to Tennessee-Martin. The recipe for Saturday afternoon in Fayetteville: Get the starters some good repetitions and don’t get anyone hurt.

We were 7-1 on the picks last week, going 7-0 on Saturday. The record for the season is now 51-13.

Let’s get to the picks for Week 9:

Arkansas 49, Tennessee-Martin 17 — Martin started its season with a 76-3 loss at Ole Miss. It won’t be that bad for the Skyhawks this week. The goal for them is to make sure Jeff Long hands over that big check. Martin is 5-2. Its other loss was 48-41 to Jacksonville State (which took Auburn to overtime). The victories were by scores of 72-10 over Bethel (an NAIA school), 31-17 over Tennessee Tech, 28-14 over Tennessee State, 44-14 over Austin Peay and 52-45 over Murray State. There’s not much more to say about this one as the Razorbacks tune up for the final stretch of four Southeastern Conference games.

Arkansas State 38, Georgia State 19 — The Red Wolves will have had 11 days to prepare for Saturday’s game in Jonesboro. They remained undefeated in conference play on Tuesday night of last week with a 37-27 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette at Jonesboro. ASU improved to 4-3 overall and 3-0 in the Sun Belt Conference, jumping out to a 27-0 lead in the second quarter against Louisiana-Lafayette. Georgia State has won only one game against a Sun Belt Conference opponent since joining the conference in 2013. Of the 16 losses, 10 have come by two touchdowns or more. This year the Panthers are 2-4 overall and 1-1 in Sun Belt play. The wins were by scores of 34-32 over New Mexico State and 31-19 over Ball State. The losses were by scores of 23-20 to Charlotte, 61-28 to Oregon, 41-33 to Liberty and 37-3 to Appalachian State.

UCA 28, Southeastern Louisiana 24 — It’s a Halloween homecoming at Conway as the Bears host Southeastern Louisiana. UCA improved its record to 4-3 overall and 4-1 in the Southland Conference last Saturday with a 35-17 win at Lamar. Blake Veasley rushed 49 times for 292 yards for the Bears, both single-game school records. He scored four touchdowns. The 49 rushes were the most for a player in an FCS game this season and the third most for any NCAA player in 2015. No. 1 on the list is a player from another Conway school — Dayton Winn of Division III Hendrix College with 52 carries. Southeastern has been up and down, bringing records of 4-3 overall and 3-2 in conference to Conway. The victories were by scores of 34-20 over Northwestern State, 28-17 over the Florida Institute of Technology, 30-27 over Lamar and 22-7 over Houston Baptist. The losses were by scores of 35-14 to Ohio, 21-7 to McNeese State and 28-27 to Stephen F. Austin.

Prairie View A&M 29, UAPB 6 — Things just keep getting worse for the Golden Lions, who are 1-6 overall and 0-5 in the SWAC. UAPB was listless last Saturday in a 37-3 loss at Jackson State. The Golden Lions were limited to 175 yards of offense in that one. The leading rusher for UAPB had only 27 yards. There’s not much hope against a Prairie View A&M team that is 4-2 overall and 4-1 in conference play.

Henderson 51, Southern Nazarene 13 — The Reddies remain alone atop the Great American Conference at 7-1 following a 29-28 win over Southern Arkansas last Saturday at Arkadelphia. Reddie quarterback Dallas Hardison from Bentonville ran six yards and dived into the end zone as time expired for the homecoming victory. The Reddies drove 94 yards for that score after stopping the Muleriders on fourth down. SAU decided not to kick the short field goal that would have given the visitors an eight-point lead. Hardison was 21 of 36 passing for 229 yards. This week, the Reddies will be able to toy with an 0-8 Southern Nazarene team as Henderson plays a second consecutive home game.

Ouachita 30, Oklahoma Baptist 23 — Ouachita is 9-0 in GAC play at Cliff Harris Stadium since the facility opened at the start of the 2014 season. The defending conference champions have struggled on the road this year, though. They’re 1-3 on the road and 5-3 overall. The good news for Ouachita is that Saturday’s game is at the place students like to call The Cliff. Ouachita won at home last week over UAM, 20-17, as freshman tailback Kris Oliver from Arkadelphia rushed for 125 yards and two touchdowns. Junior running back Brandon Marks of Prescott is out for the season, but Ouachita counters with two talented freshmen in Oliver and Donelle Hoof out of Texas. It’s OBU vs. OBU this week as Oklahoma Baptist has made the move up to NCAA Division II from the NAIA and joined the GAC. Oklahoma Baptist is 2-6 in its first year in the conference. The two schools last played each other in football in 1940.

Arkansas Tech 31, Northwestern Oklahoma 26 — The Wonder Boys have won six games for the first time since 2009. Tech went to 6-2 last Saturday with a 57-37 victory in Russellville over 3-5 Southeastern Oklahoma. The  Wonder Boys scored touchdowns on four of their first five possessions. Northwestern is 3-5 but has the talent to pull the upset at home. Tech will try to remain one game behind Henderson while hoping that one of the two OBUs upsets Henderson in the final two weeks of the season.

Harding 37, Southwestern Oklahoma 27 — Harding is also 6-2 following an impressive 62-20 victory over East Central Oklahoma. The Bisons, with their double-slot offense, scored touchdowns on their first five possessions. Harding had 557 rushing yards, just 10 short of a school record. Harding has lost only to the two Arkadelphia schools, Ouachita and Henderson. Southwestern is 5-3 and capable of beating Harding at home. The Bulldogs upset Ouachita in Weatherford when the Tigers were ranked No. 9 nationally and later beat a good East Central Oklahoma team at home.

Southern Arkansas 22, Southeastern Oklahoma 16 — The 5-3 Muleriders are just one play away from being tied for the conference lead. Of course, they’re also only a couple of plays away from being 3-5 after narrow victories over Ouachita and Southwestern Oklahoma. Southeastern’s season has been one of streaks. It started with close losses to Henderson and Ouachita. That was followed by victories over Oklahoma Baptist, Southern Nazarene and Southwestern Oklahoma. The Savage Storm has lost the past three games to Northwestern Oklahoma, Harding and Arkansas Tech. Expect Saturday’s game in Durant to be close.

East Central Oklahoma 32, UAM 21 — The Boll Weevils travel to Ada, Okla., with a 1-8 record, having only defeated winless Southern Nazarene. East Central is 5-3, having given Henderson its only loss and Arkansas Tech one of its two losses.

 

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