Archive for the ‘College football’ Category

College football: Week 6

Tuesday, October 6th, 2015

It took until October, but we finally had a weekend when the University of Arkansas, Arkansas State University and the University of Central Arkansas all won.

Our record for the year is 34-9, which is not bad. But the percentage would be so much better if we could figure out the Hogs.

We picked them to beat both Toledo and Texas Tech. They lost, of course.

We picked them to lose to Tennessee. You know what happened in Knoxville.

And as far as undefeated college football teams in Arkansas, “then there were none.”

Arkansas Tech and Harding went to Arkadelphia last Saturday with 4-0 records.

Ouachita dealt Harding a 26-21 defeat at Cliff Harris Stadium. Harding is now 16-2 in its previous 18 Great American Conference games with the only two losses having come at the hands of the team it wants to beat most, the Baptists from Ouachita.

A few hours later on the other side of U.S. Highway 67, Henderson beat Tech, 17-7.

Of course, I picked both Harding and Tech last week, leading to a 5-3 record overall.

So we now have five teams from the 12-team GAC tied for the conference lead with 4-1 records — Ouachita, Henderson, Harding, Arkansas Tech and East Central Oklahoma.

At the end of the day Saturday, there will be three teams at most at the top.

There are two huge games: Ouachita at Tech and Henderson at Harding. I expect both games to be close.

With that said, let’s get to the picks for Week 6:

Alabama 35, Arkansas 24 — Something tells me that Arkansas will hang around for at least three quarters in Tuscaloosa on Saturday night now that the SEC road game monkey is off the Razorbacks’ back. The 24-20 victory at Tennessee was the first SEC road win in the Bielema era. It was also the first time Arkansas had won a game decided by seven points or less in the Bielema era. Arkansas is now 1-9 in such games under its head coach. Alex Collins and Drew Morgan were impressive. Collins rushed for 154 yards and two touchdowns. He has topped 150 yards rushing in three consecutive games. Morgan had five catches for 110 yards, his second consecutive 100-yard game. Brandon Allen was 11 of 24 passing for 219 yards. The Arkansas defense held Tennessee to 133 rushing yards (115 less than the season average coming into the game), and Arkansas led in second-half time of possession 21:57 to 8:03. That said, Bama looked like the Bama championship teams of old between the hedges in Athens on Saturday afternoon en route to a 38-10 spanking of previously undefeated Georgia. The Bulldog coaches even yanked starting quarterback Greyson Lambert late in the first half. The Tide led 24-3 at halftime and then returned an interception 50 yards for a touchdown to start the second half. Alabama looked like a team that belongs in college football’s final four.

UCA 39, Houston Baptist 20 — The Bears finally got to play at home and responded with a 42-14 victory over Abilene Christian to even their season record at 2-2. The most important thing, though, is that they’re now 2-0 in the Southland Conference. UCA led 32-0 in the second quarter and never looked back. Houston Baptist opened the season with a 51-7 victory over tiny Bethany College from Kansas and then lost 34-10 to Northern Colorado, 49-21 to Abilene Christian and 63-14 to Sam Houston State. Those three losses were followed last Saturday by a 65-0 victory over College of Faith, which (best as I can determine) is a correspondence school in West Memphis that happens to field a football team. It’s at best a club team. I’m not sure why the NCAA allows games against the school to count. At any rate, Houston Baptist must face a real team in Houston this Saturday afternoon.

Ouachita 28, Arkansas Tech 21 — Ouachita trailed Harding 14-3 early but scored the go-ahead touchdown with 1:40 left in the game on a pass from Malvern’s Austin Warford to Searcy’s Johnathan Powell. The Tigers then added a safety for the 26-21 victory. Last year after an overtime victory over Harding, the Tigers struggled to beat Tech at home. The Wonder Boys started the season 4-0 under the leadership of a transfer quarterback named Arsenio Favor, who came to Tech from the University of Alabama at Birmingham when UAB dropped football. Favor is 6-3, 240 pounds. He struggled last week against a Henderson defense that has only allowed seven points in the previous eight quarters. This is a tough one to pick. It will probably come down to which team has the fewest turnovers.

Harding 30, Henderson 27 — Another GAC showdown, and another tough pick. We’ll give the slight edge to Harding since the Bisons are home. Harding gave Henderson its first of two losses last year (the other was to Ouachita), and its double-slot offense remains dangerous. Henderson, which was a passing team when Kevin Rodgers was quarterback from 2012-14, is now more of a running team. Jaquan Cole rushed for 245 yards on 27 carries for the Reddies in the win over Tech. Henderson had 390 yards of offense, and 305 yards of it came on the ground. Henderson’s defense is vastly improved from last year. Tech had 323 yards of offense, far below its average of 482.5 yards in the first four games.

UAM 41, Southern Nazarene 38 — The Boll Weevils are 0-5 following a 56-28 loss to 1-4 Oklahoma Baptist, the conference’s newest member. Southern Nazarene, meanwhile, has lost 27 consecutive games. Somebody has to win. We’ll give the Weevils the edge since it’s their homecoming game.

Southern Arkansas 34, Oklahoma Baptist 25 — The Muleriders are 3-2 following their 55-20 win at Southern Nazarene. Oklahoma Baptist will provide a bit more of a challenge for SAU, which began the season with victories over Southwestern Oklahoma and Northwestern Oklahoma before falling to Harding (giving up 70 points in that one) and Arkansas Tech.

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College football: Week 3

Thursday, September 17th, 2015

I was thinking about Jack Crowe early Saturday afternoon.

I was keeping an eye on a television monitor during a late lunch in west Little Rock, and it appeared that Jacksonville State was about to upset Auburn on the Plains.

Jacksonville State, you see, was Crowe’s last stop as a head coach. He’s no longer there, but he was on my mind as Auburn was forced to score in the final minute of play just to get the game to overtime. The two schools, which are only 108 miles apart, were playing for the first time.

Crowe was still the coach back on Labor Day weekend of 2010 when Jacksonville State went to Oxford, Miss., and stunned Ole Miss with a two-point conversion in the second overtime for a 49-48 win over a Rebel team that had led 31-10 at the half.

And, of course, it was Labor Day weekend in 1992 when Crowe’s University of Arkansas team fell to the Citadel. Crowe was axed the next day by Frank Broyles, the UA athletic director. I remember getting into my father’s pickup following a successful dove hunt in a field across the Ouachita River from Arkadelphia and being stunned when we turned on the radio and learned that Arkansas was trailing late.

I was the political editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette at the time. The next day, I was in Hot Springs to cover the welcome-home rally the city was throwing for Gov. Bill Clinton. It already was becoming evident that Clinton was going to be elected the next president of the United States. I was certain my story from Hot Springs would be at the top of the front page the next morning. That was not to be the case. When I called the newspaper to ask how much room I had for the next day’s story, I was told: “Keep it tight. Frank Broyles just fired Jack Crowe.”

It was interesting that I was thinking about Crowe last Saturday afternoon since the Razorbacks would lose a game later in the day that was Citadelesque in nature.

I knew there were problems for the Hogs at about 6 p.m. when I glanced down at my phone while preparing for the broadcast of Ouachita’s home game against Southeastern Oklahoma. I noticed that numerous people were posting messages that began: “Holy Toledo!”

What was most depressing in the hours that followed was seeing the social media crowd blame the loss on a stadium rather than a lack of preparation and a lack of execution.

I hate excuses.

It was the stadium’s fault?

Arkansas fans have always been good at whining about officiating, but blaming a stadium for a loss was a new one for me.

Here are a few of the lowlights:

— Toledo limited Arkansas to three points on three second-half drives that went inside the 10.

— Toledo broke Arkansas’ streak of having held seven consecutive opponents scoreless in the first quarter.

— It was Toledo’s first victory ever over a ranked team on the road and its first victory against a Southeastern Conference team.

— The Razorbacks are 1-5 in Little Rock since 2012.

— It was Bret Bielmea’s first nonconference home loss in 10 seasons as a head coach.

Obviously, I missed my pick for that game. But the record was still 8-2 in Week 2, making the Southern Fried blog 18-2 for the season.

Let’s get to the picks for Week 3:

Arkansas 40, Texas Tech 35 — The Red Raiders can score a lot of points quickly, and you can expect them to put points on the board again in Fayetteville on Saturday. Last Saturday, Patrick Mahomes threw for four touchdowns and rushed for a couple of more as Tech cruised past UTEP, 69-20. Mahomes, just a sophomore, was 18 of 33 passing for 361 yards. Last year, Tech was forced to come from behind to beat the Miners, 30-26, in El Paso. This appears to be a much better Tech team than the 2014 edition. The Red Raiders struggled on defense in a 59-45 victory over Sam Houston State but improved between the first and second weeks of the season. Tech gave up 637 yards against Sam Houston and 414 yards against UTEP. Look for a high-scoring game in which both teams gain plenty of yardage. Arkansas wins by doing something it was unable to do last week — scoring touchdowns at the end of drives.

Arkansas State 37, Missouri State 24 — After a thrashing to start the season at the hands of USC, Arkansas State came home last Saturday and gave Missouri all it could handle before losing, 27-20, in front of almost 30,000 people at Jonesboro. The Red Wolves actually led at the half of that game, 17-10. ASU was held to 37 yards in the second half and just 217 yards for the game. This is the first time since 2010 that an ASU team has started the season 0-2. The Red Wolves should right the ship this week against a Missouri State team that lost 63-7 to Memphis to start the season (this might be the best football team at Memphis in a long time) before edging Chadron State by a score of 21-13 last Saturday in Springfield.

Texas Southern 17, UAPB 14 — South Carolina State thumped UAPB, 35-7, in the season opener on ESPN. The Golden Lions came home from that game in Orlando ready to feast on an NCAA Division II team, Morehouse College, but the score was tied 7-7 at the end of regulation. UAPB finally prevailed in three overtimes, 29-27. Texas Southern is 1-1, having lost 38-11 in the Labor Day Classic at Houston to Prairie View A&M before coming home to down tiny Bacone College, 63-0, in the season’s second game. I will simply end with the same sentence I ended with last week: You get the feeling that this is going to be one of those years when nothing comes easily for the Golden Lions.

Ouachita 39, Southwestern Oklahoma 32 — The defending Great American Conference champions from Ouachita have now won 12 consecutive regular-season games and are 19-3 in their past 22 regular-season games. Ouachita was cruising at home in Arkadelphia last week against Southeastern Oklahoma with a 22-point lead and the ball in the Savage Storm red zone with less than six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. Then a nightmare scenario of events (a fumble returned for a touchdown, two onside kicks recovered by Southeastern, breakdowns in the Ouachita secondary) almost caused the Tigers to lose. They hung on, 42-40, to go to 2-0. It’s the longest road trip of the season this week as Ouachita takes on a Southwestern Oklahoma team that is improved from last year. Southwestern gave Southern Arkansas all it could handle in Magnolia in the season opener before falling by four points, 28-24. Last Saturday, the Bulldogs hung half a hundred on UAM to win by 30 points, 50-20. This should be a close, high-scoring game.

Southern Arkansas 28, Harding 27 — As we’ve been saying each week, this might be Bill Keopple’s best team yet at Southern Arkansas. The Muleriders followed up the win against Southwestern Oklahoma with a 49-14 victory at Northwestern Oklahoma. Seven players scored for the Muleriders. Southern Arkansas outgained Northwestern by more than 300 yards (595-210). Harding struggled in its season opener, beating Oklahoma Baptist in overtime, and then got on track last week with a 42-0 victory over a woeful Southern Nazarene team that has now lost 24 consecutive games. Harding is nationally ranked, but we’ll go with the home team in an upset.

Arkansas Tech 42, UAM 25 — The Wonder Boys have been impressive in their first two games. A 62-14 victory over Southern Nazarene to start the season was followed with a 50-7 victory over Oklahoma Baptist. That’s 112 points in eight quarters if you’re counting. Tech scored on each of its first seven drives against Oklahoma Baptist and held the conference’s newest member to just 160 yards of offense. The Wonder Boys had 460 yards rushing against Southern Nazarene and 219 yards rushing against Oklahoma Baptist. UAM has struggled in losses of 52-31 to Northwestern Oklahoma and 50-20 to Southwestern Oklahoma. So Tech has scored 112 points in its first two games, and UAM has given up 102 points. You can figure out the rest.

Henderson 38, Northwestern Oklahoma 19 — A good East Central Oklahoma team came into Arkadelphia on Thursday of last week and shocked the Reddies, 35-28. So it will be a Henderson team with plenty of question marks that makes the long trip to Alva, Okla., to take on a Northwestern Oklahoma team that started the 2015 season with a win over UAM and then fell hard to Southern Arkansas. Both teams are 1-1, but don’t let that fool you. Henderson has far more talent.

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Whither Little Rock

Wednesday, September 16th, 2015

The social media morons were out in force last Saturday and Sunday.

Blaming a stadium for a college football team’s loss rather than a lack of preparation and a lack of execution is a new one on me.

But, yes, let’s blame War Memorial Stadium, not the coaching staff or the players at the University of Arkansas for that Citadelesque loss to Toledo (or was it Akron? All those MAC teams look alike to me).

On the morning of the game, the state’s largest newspaper (I happen to write a weekly column for that newspaper) had a large headline on the front of the sports section that read “Countdown to zero” with an altered illustration of a half-empty War Memorial Stadium.

It was as if the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette wanted to make the chance that the University of Arkansas will cease playing football games in Little Rock when the current contract expires at the end of 2018 a self-fulfilling prophecy.

No more Hog games in the capital city: That seems to have become the conventional wisdom, driven in part, I suspect, by the fact that the Razorbacks are now 1-5 in Little Rock since 2012 (and ignoring the fact that Arkansas has had a poor to mediocre football program since 2012).

I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion. The situation is, in fact, far more complex and fluid than the social media morons would have you believe.

I was a senior staffer in the governor’s office at the time of the original Great Stadium Debate (simply known as the GSD for you message board trolls) and was deeply involved in this issue. Just as was the case back then, the decision in 2018 will not be made by the athletic director in Fayetteville. It will be made by the members of the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees since Razorback games in Little Rock are such a part of the cultural fabric of this state. It’s bigger than football.

Just last week, it was reported that even though the University of Arkansas has the largest freshman class in its history, the number of students from Arkansas is down.

The Democrat-Gazette reported: “Growth largely has been based on an influx of out-of-state students. This year’s freshman class of 4,916 students continues the trend with 51 percent arriving from outside Arkansas. The size of the freshman class increased by about 7.5 percent compared with last year’s 4,571. UA spokesman Laura Jacobs said the university counted 15,237 students from the state. This is a decrease from the 15,329 Arkansans counted in the university’s 11th day enrollment report from fall 2014.”

Imagine that. The majority of students in the freshman class at the state’s flagship university are from outside of Arkansas. And that’s in a state that badly needs more of its high school residents obtaining college degrees (former Gov. Mike Beebe set a goal of doubling the number of college graduates in Arkansas by 2025).

If this trend continues, members of the board will have to take a strong look at whether the university still appeals to young people in places like east Arkansas and south Arkansas. Many Arkansans already are referring to the school as the University of DFW at Fayetteville due to the influx of Texans. Playing Razorback football games in Little Rock traditionally has been a part of the university’s strategy to connect with families who live far from the northwest Arkansas campus.

No one argues that the athletic department makes more money by playing games in Fayetteville. The numbers speak for themselves. Athletic directors must be concerned with things like that. Members of the board, however, are appointed to 10-year terms by the governor to look at the big picture. And the big picture is starting to play in favor of keeping at least one game a year at War Memorial Stadium as an outreach to families in other parts of Arkansas.

There are a number of misconceptions spread by the social media morons.

Let’s address a few of them:

  1. I read over and over that “no one does this anymore,” meaning the idea of giving up a game on campus to play somewhere else. Huh? We’ll just look at schools in this part of the country. Oklahoma and Texas still play each other every year at the old Cotton Bowl in Dallas because it’s a tradition. Georgia and Florida still play each other each year in Jacksonville, Fla., because it’s a tradition. Could there be a stronger tradition than the Razorbacks playing at least once conference game a year in Little Rock for 78 consecutive seasons prior to this year? Texas A&M will play games in both Houston and Arlington, Texas, this season. Auburn opened its season in Atlanta. Alabama opened its season in Arlington. North Carolina and South Carolina opened their seasons in Charlotte. Tennessee opened its season in Nashville. Missouri tried to play last Saturday’s game against Arkansas State in St. Louis. The Tigers played Illinois in St. Louis in 2002-03 and from 2007-10. The bottom line is that playing games away from campus is now becoming more of a trend, not less of one.
  2. I also read about the financial hit the athletic department is taking each time the Razorbacks play in Little Rock. The huge amount of money that Southeastern Conference schools are now receiving for television rights (the SEC Network has been successful beyond even the most optimistic predictions) make actual per-game revenue a smaller part of the overall athletic department budget than ever before. In other words, Arkansas can easily afford to make a little less money in Little Rock than it would make in Fayetteville if playing in Little Rock on one or two Saturdays each fall better advances the overall goals of the university. Bottom line: Per-game revenue is just not as big an issue as it once was.
  3. People point to the annual conference game against Texas A&M at AT&T Stadium in Arlington as a complicating factor. I don’t see it. There’s no reason the Hogs can’t continue to play at Jerry Jones’ palace while also playing at least one game (and maybe two in some years) at Little Rock. If the choice did have to be made between Arlington and Little Rock, members of the board would need to ask themselves this question: “Is it more important to the overall goals of the university to have a game each year in an adjoining state or in the largest city of the state where the university is located?”
  4. To those who claim that “nobody else is doing it,” I would at least request that they be consistent. Here’s what “nobody else is doing” in the SEC these days with the exception of Arkansas: Refusing to play in-state opponents. LSU was going to open the season this year with McNeese State before lightning forced the game to be called off. Auburn was taken to overtime last Saturday in its game against Jacksonville State, which is just 108 miles from Auburn campus. Mississippi State opened its season at Southern Mississippi. Georgia will close its season as always against Georgia Tech. It’s high time for Arkansas and Arkansas State to play each other on an annual basis.

A friend who has decades of experience in the world of Arkansas football recently laid out his “dream scenario” at a time when so many are predicting that college football is about to become a thing of the past at War Memorial Stadium. He said he can see the day when:

— UALR starts a football program (it’s already in a football conference, the Sun Belt, and has an athletic director from a football family) and plays its home games at War Memorial Stadium.

— Little Rock finally gets that bowl game it was so close to landing a few months ago.

— A coalition of legislators from northeast, southeast, southwest and central Arkansas pass legislation mandating that Arkansas and Arkansas State play each other in football each year at War Memorial Stadium.

I don’t see all of that happening.

But I do see the UA trustees taking into consideration more than just the football program when it comes time to renegotiate the contract with the War Memorial Stadium Commission.

I like Bret Bielema personally. I like Jeff Long. They’ve been nothing but nice to me. And I have good friends on both sides of this issue. I simply want what is best for the university and the state as a whole.

It all comes down to this: At a time when Arkansans now represent a minority of the freshman class at the University of Arkansas, there’s far more than the wants and needs of the athletic department to consider.

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The Buddy Benson legacy

Friday, September 11th, 2015

We will honor the legacy of the late Buddy Benson in Arkadelphia on Saturday night shortly before the Tigers of Ouachita Baptist University take on Southeastern Oklahoma.

It’s entirely fitting that Ouachita officials chose this game to change the name of A.U. Williams Field to Benson-Williams Field. That’s because it was against Southeastern Oklahoma that Buddy Benson got his first victory as a college head coach in 1965. And it was against Southeastern Oklahoma that he achieved his 100th victory.

Benson’s 162-140-8 record in 31 seasons as the head coach at Ouachita is remarkable when one considers how poor the facilities were in those years and how little money he had to spend on his program. Benson rarely had more than two or three full-time assistant coaches. Most high school coaching staffs in the state were larger than what Benson had to work with at Ouachita.

Still, he produced 16 all-America and more than 200 all-conference players. Almost all of his players graduated, moving on to success in business, medicine, law, education and other professions.

Dozens of them will be at the stadium Saturday night to see him honored.

I wrote a lot of what follows after the coach’s death in April 2011, but it’s worth repeating.

Buddy Benson’s recruiting strategy was based on quality rather than quantity, not only physical quality but also mental and moral excellence. His players knew they were expected to do well in class and were expected to graduate in four years.

Sitting in the den of his Arkadelphia home one day, I asked him why he had stayed at Ouachita for decades despite the lack of funding and the crumbling facilities.

He answered: “There’s just something special about this school. You can see it in the students and feel it when you walk around the campus. We have a high class of individuals going to school here. If a kid can stick it out with us for four years, he will end up being a pretty high-class person himself.”

Former Ouachita President Dan Grant called Benson “a dream coach for a small private university. I taught for 22 years at Vanderbilt, and the chancellor would have given his right arm to have a coach with Benson’s record of accomplishments.”

Former Ouachita President Ben Elrod said: “I never thought of Buddy Benson working for me or, for that matter, for Ouachita in the years that I was president. He had his own inner compass, which he consulted for his sense of direction as a coach and as a man. The results verified the accuracy of the compass in the quality of his life. We were friends who respected each other.”

I was raised just down the street from the Ouachita stadium and practice field. From the time I was old enough to walk, fall afternoons were spent watching my beloved Tigers practice.

I was in awe of him.

Here’s how Arkansas Democrat sports editor Fred Morrow put it in a column after the Tigers won a share of the Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference championship in 1975: “His athletes are going to go to class. They’re not going to abuse (or even get caught using) tobacco or alcohol, and they’re going to keep their hair nice and neat, and they’re going to say yes sir and no sir. Oh, they’re also going to receive degrees.”

Benson was fond of saying, “I’m not running a popularity contest.”

Coming out of De Queen High School, Benson was among the most highly recruited running backs in the country. He signed with the University of Oklahoma. Coach Bud Wilkinson’s teams won 47 consecutive games between 1953 and 1957. But Buddy Benson missed his home state and decided to transfer to the University of Arkansas, where he helped lead the Razorbacks to a share of the 1954 Southwest Conference championship, an 8-3 record and a berth in the Cotton Bowl against Georgia Tech.

It was Benson who threw the 66-yard touchdown pass to Preston Carpenter at Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium to lead the Razorbacks to a 6-0 victory over nationally ranked Ole Miss. The late Orville Henry, the longtime sports editor of the Arkansas Gazette, later would describe what was known as the Powder River Play as the school’s most famous play because it put the Arkansas program on the map and gave the Razorbacks a statewide following.

Following his college graduation in the spring of 1956, Benson was offered a professional contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He turned down that offer (NFL rookies made very little back in those days) to try his hand at coaching high school football.

Benson took a job at Lewisville in far south Arkansas, and his first team went 10-1. His second team was 7-1-2, and Benson was being listed as one of the hottest young coaches in the state. He needed to provide for his family, though, and coaching high school sports in Arkansas wasn’t a way to make a good living in the 1950s. He decided to sell automobiles for his father-in-law.

He told the sports editor of the Texarkana newspaper: “I was getting a better deal going into the automobile business. It’s just one of those things. I had the opportunity to go, and I couldn’t pass it up. As much as I like it here, I have to make a living for my family.”

The sports editor Benson was talking to was Wick Temple, who would go on to become a top executive in New York for The Associated Press.

Temple wrote in his column back then: “His was the model small school coaching situation. He produced fine athletes and a fine athletic program. He had a good record and no difficulties with anyone, much less the school board. But he quit. He left what had taken him 10 years of playing and coaching to achieve.”

He poured his heart into being the best car salesman in the South, but he wasn’t happy.

In the summer of 1961, Benson showed up at the annual coaching clinic in Little Rock to look for a job. He wanted to find his way back into coaching. A friend told him that Ouachita’s head coach, Rab Rodgers, needed an assistant. It didn’t pay much, but Benson didn’t care. He found Rodgers and was offered the job. Benson moved to Arkadelphia that summer and never left.

Rodgers decided to get out of coaching following the 1964 season and devote his time to being Ouachita’s full-time athletic director. Benson was promoted to head coach, but it was a risky proposition. Few people believed that Ouachita, a Southern gridiron power in the early 1900s, could win again in football. Benson’s friends told him that he had ruined his career by taking on an impossible task.

The school’s president, Dr. Ralph Phelps, had admitted in a speech to the Ouachita student body a few years earlier that “Ouachita, after having been at the pinnacle of athletic glory, has sunk about as low as a school can go without dropping competition altogether.”

In fact, Ouachita had experienced just two winning seasons the previous 16 years.

Having that context helps you understand how amazing it was that Benson didn’t have a single losing season in his first 12 years as head coach.

He worked his magic quickly. By his second year, the Tigers had captured a share of the AIC championship. Benson did it with players who were a reflection of their leader. They wore suits on road trips, they maintained a clean-cut appearance at all times and they played the game cleanly.

To his face, of course, his players only referred to him as “Coach Benson.”

When they were talking about him, though, they called him The Man.

The Man turned boys into men. That’s why so many of them will be in Arkadelphia on Saturday. They had a strong loyalty to this tough taskmaster who would accept nothing less than their best.

“Suck it up,” he would tell them.

He would remind them of the “difference between pain and injury.”

He would walk up and down the practice field during August two-a-days and chant: “It’s hard, but it’s fair. You had a good home, you should have stayed there.”

The most famous of Buddy Benson’s players, Cliff Harris, said his college coach “taught us to achieve at levels we didn’t believe were possible. At critical moments in my life, I’ve thought of Coach Benson and the things he taught me. It was his influence that allowed me to step it up a notch at those important times.”

Another former player, Jim Crane, said: “One of the proudest accomplishments in my life is to have played four years for Coach Benson. He was a constant in my life. I could always count on him to be there, and he always took care of his boys. He was The Man and my friend. I am a better man for his presence in my life. I loved him as my second father.”

Speaking of second fathers, I wrote this on the day Buddy Benson died, less than two months after I had lost the other major influence in my life, my father: “On the night my father died — as I waited at the Little Rock nursing home for the funeral home personnel to arrive from Arkadelphia and pick up his body — the first call I received on my cell phone was from Coach Benson.

“‘Are you all right?’ he asked me ‘Do you need me to come up there?’

“‘No sir,’ I replied. ‘I’ll be OK.’

“You see, he had taught me long ago to ‘suck it up’ in tough times. I have no doubt, though, that he would have been in the car headed to Little Rock within minutes had I said I needed him.”

Just as he was there for his former players, he was always there for me.

That’s why there’s nowhere I rather be Saturday night than the newly named Benson-Williams Field.

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College football: Week 2

Wednesday, September 9th, 2015

It’s good to have the college football season under way, isn’t it?

Even if you’re still treating that sunburn from last Saturday afternoon at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.

It’s yet another Saturday afternoon game this week for the University of Arkansas, but the weather should be delightful at Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium with highs in the 70s.

Some notes following Arkansas’ season-opening 48-13 victory over UTEP:

— It was the ninth consecutive year for Arkansas to win its home opener.

— Arkansas is now 95-23-4 in season openers.

— Bret Bielema is now 35-2 as a head coach in nonconference games.

— Brandon Allen was 14 of 18 passing for a career-high 308 yards and four touchdowns.

— Keon Hatcher had six receptions for 106 yards and two touchdowns.

— Alex Collins rushed for 127 yards and a touchdown. It was his eighth career 100-yard game.

The other three NCAA Division I teams in the state — Arkansas State, UCA and UAPB — all lost. And all of them looked bad in the process.

In the Great American Conference of NCAA Division II, the league title has never left Arkadelphia since the GAC was formed. Ouachita has won it twice, and Henderson has won it twice. Both Ouachita and Henderson had to go on the road to Oklahoma in Week 1, and both teams won by seven points as their opponents drove into the red zone in the final minute of play.

We were 10-0 on the picks in Week 1. We won’t get cocky. Don’t expect that perfect record to survive Week 2. But here goes:

Arkansas 51, Toledo 21 — We understand there will be a scrimmage at War Memorial Stadium on Saturday afternoon as a warm-up for a Brad Paisley concert. Arkansas stayed at No. 18 in The Associated Press poll and moved up two spots to No. 18 in the USA Today coaches’ poll. Toledo shouldn’t provide much more of a challenge than UTEP did. The goals remain the same for the Razorbacks: Get the starters quality reps, put points on the board early so lots of people can play in the second half and don’t get anyone hurt.

Missouri 47, Arkansas State 24 — A Southeastern Conference team comes to Jonesboro. How about that? Missouri athletic department officials were truly surprised when ASU turned down the big bucks the school was offered to play this game at a “neutral” location in St. Louis. Good for the Jonesboro restaurants and hotels, which stand to make a lot of money this weekend. ASU fell 55-6 in its opener to USC in Los Angeles. At least the $1.3 million check didn’t bounce. The Trojans led 28-0 at halftime and never looked back. Missouri opened with a 34-3 win over Southeast Missouri State as Maty Mauk passed for 181 yards and two touchdowns. ASU should be a bit more of a challenge … but just a bit.

Oklahoma State 40, UCA 23 — The Bears were awful in their opener, falling 45-16 to Samford in Birmingham. The home team had five scoring drives of five plays or less in its first game under a new head coach, Chris Hatcher. It gets even more difficult this week for UCA as the Bears travel to Stillwater, Okla., to take on Oklahoma State at T. Boone Pickens Stadium. The Cowboys were less than impressive last Thursday night in a 24-13 win over Central Michigan. This isn’t a vintage OSU team, but it doesn’t seem to be a vintage UCA team, either.

UAPB 22, Morehouse 20 — The Golden Lions were on ESPN last weekend (while the Razorbacks only rated ESPNU). Monte Coleman’s team couldn’t take advantage of the exposure, falling 35-7 to South Carolina State while playing at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando. UAPB was held to just 191 yards of offense. For the home opener, the Golden Lions get a Division II school, Morehouse College of Atlanta. Morehouse is one of the most famous HBCUs in the country, an all-male college that has produced a number of the nation’s top African-American leaders, including the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Morehouse opened the season with a victory over Edward Waters College. The Maroon Tigers were 6-4 in 2014. UAPB should beat a Division II school at home, yet you get the feeling this is going to be one of those years when nothing comes easily for the Golden Lions.

Henderson 25, East Central Oklahoma 19 — The Reddie home opener is on a Thursday night. The Henderson offense didn’t look the same last week as the post-Kevin Rodgers era began. Rodgers was the quarterback who led the Reddies to 30 victories the previous three seasons along with GAC championships in 2012 and 2013. The Reddie defense was the key this time. Henderson had a goal-line stand in the final minute to preserve a 23-16 win in Durant, Okla., against Southeastern Oklahoma. Henderson will be tested again in Arkadelphia on Thursday night against an East Central Oklahoma team that gave defending conference champion Ouachita all it wanted a week ago.

Ouachita 31, Southeastern Oklahoma 28 — Ouachita also has a new quarterback — redshirt sophomore Austin Warford from Malvern, who has the big shoes of Kiehl Frazier to fill. Frazier, the Auburn transfer, led Ouachita to an undefeated regular season last year. The offense was solid, though, in a 31-24 victory against East Central. It was the Tiger secondary that was hurting, giving up more than 400 yards through the air. Ouachita came up with an interception in the end zone in the final minute to preserve the win. Southeastern Oklahoma will have a decent chance of winning in Arkadelphia on Saturday night unless the Tiger secondary shows vast improvement.

Arkansas Tech 39, Oklahoma Baptist 30 — In its first game as a member of the GAC, Oklahoma Baptist gave Harding all it could handle before falling in overtime. Arkansas Tech, meanwhile, had 460 yards rushing in a 62-14 win against a Southern Nazarene team that was 0-11 in 2014. This will be a much stiffer test for the Wonder Boys, but they are at home. Raymond Monica is in his third season at Tech, and this appears to be a far better team (especially on offense) than his first two.

Harding 59, Southern Nazarene 18 — Harding got a scare last week in Oklahoma, hanging on 20-19 in overtime against Oklahoma Baptist. It was a wake-up call for the Bisons, and poor ol’ Southern Nazarene — the GAC’s least talented team — will be the one to pay in Searcy on Saturday.

Southern Arkansas 27, Northwestern Oklahoma 26 — The Muleriders had to come from behind in the fourth quarter last Saturday in Magnolia to overcome Southwestern Oklahoma, 28-24. Northwestern looked much improved from last season, defeating UAM in Monticello, 52-31. Coach Bill Keopple thinks this is his best team yet at SAU. Still, the Muleriders will have to play better than they did last week to get the win this Saturday night way out west in Alva, Okla.

Southwestern Oklahoma 35, UAM 17 — In the narrow loss at Southern Arkansas, Southwestern Oklahoma appeared to be a far better team than the one a year ago. UAM jumped to a 17-0 lead in its loss to Northwestern Oklahoma and then faded. The long trip to Weatherford, Okla., won’t help matters for the Boll Weevils.

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College football: Week 1

Tuesday, September 1st, 2015

It’s the time of year so many of you love.

It’s college football season.

Once again, we’ll be predicting the winners of all of the games involving NCAA Division I and Division II teams in the state.

No need for further introductions. Let’s get right to it:

Arkansas 48, UTEP 19 — The University of Texas at El Paso rolls into Fayetteville for a hot Saturday afternoon contest that likely will see a lot of the fans heading for the exits by the end of the third quarter. Hopes are high in Hogland, and there’s a reason for that. Coach Bret Bielema’s program has shown steady progress. It’s hard to fully comprehend just how bad things were on the Hill when Bielema arrived. Much of the success — or lack thereof — this season will depend on how Brandon Allen performs at quarterback. The term “manage the game” is often used for quarterbacks who aren’t super-talented, and Allen has worn the label “game manager” in recent seasons. It’s high time for him to go from “game manager” to “playmaker.” UTEP improved from 2-10 in 2013 to 7-6 last season. The Miners return a tailback who gained more than 1,000 yards in 2014, but let’s not kid ourselves. This really shouldn’t be a close game. The key for Arkansas in these first two games is to get the starters some solid reps, put points on the board early, let the backups play in the second half and don’t get anyone hurt.

USC 45, Arkansas State 20 — There’s simply no truth to the rumor that anyone who stays until the end of Saturday night’s game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum is invited over to USC head coach Steve Sarkisian’s house for drinks afterward. Fans of the Red Wolves are a bit spoiled after successful seasons in the one-year coaching stints of Hugh Freeze, Gus Malzahn and Bryan Harsin. Based on those standards, the first year of the Blake Anderson regime (7-6 overall and 5-3 in the Sun Belt Conference) was a disappointment. ASU had won at least a share of the conference title in 2011, 2012 and 2013. That wasn’t the case last year. With nine starters back on offense and six starters returning on defense, the Red Wolves should contend for a conference title. USC has 16 returning starters, including nine on offense. The quarterback, all five offensive linemen and two top receivers are back for the Trojans. The plan for the Red Wolves this week is to try to hang around for a half, avoid injuries and pick up that big check before flying home to Arkansas.

Samford 24, UCA 21 — Just as Arkansas State was somewhat of a disappointment last year under a first-year head coach, so too was UCA. The Bears finished 6-6 overall and 5-3 in the Southland Conference under head coach Steve Campbell, who replaced Clint Conque when Conque headed to the piney woods of east Texas to coach Stephen F. Austin. Samford (which played Arkansas at War Memorial Stadium a couple of years ago and led in the second half) has a new head coach following the retirement of Pat Sullivan, the former Heisman Trophy winner from Auburn. He’s Chris Hatcher, who has a 121-57 record as a head coach. I covered the Gulf South Conference when Hatcher was at Valdosta State and can tell you that he’s the real deal. He led Valdosta to the NCAA Division II national championship in 2004. UCA will have its work cut out Thursday night in Birmingham.

South Carolina State 29, UAPB 23 — The Golden Lions head to Orlando for a rare Sunday game to open the season against South Carolina State. Monte Coleman is just 35-43 as the head coach at UAPB, and there’s pressure to improve on last year’s 4-7 record. The Golden Lions are a veteran team, returning nine offensive and eight defensive starters. South Carolina State, which has had a football program since 1907, has a rich tradition. The school has posted a record of 436-268-28 through the years. Buddy Pugh is 105-47 in his 13 years as the head coach. The Bulldogs were 8-4 last season and tied for the MEAC championship with a 6-2 record. South Carolina State returns nine offensive and eight defensive starters.

Ouachita 28, East Central Oklahoma 27 — It was a dream season in 2014 for Ouachita, which went undefeated in the regular season before losing in overtime in the second round of the NCAA Division II playoffs. The Tigers had a former Southeastern Conference starter at quarterback — Auburn transfer Kiehl Frazier. Redshirt sophomore Austin Warford from Malvern will get the start on Thursday night in Ada, Okla., and this season will rest on how well he can fill Frazier’s big shoes. The Tigers have a solid offensive line, two quality running backs (Chris Oliver from Arkadelphia and Brandon Marks from Prescott) and two of their top receivers returning. East Central is probably the best of the six Oklahoma teams in the Great American Conference. Don’t necessarily be surprised if East Central pulls the upset in Ada on Thursday night against a Ouachita program that has posted seven consecutive winning seasons (the most of any college football program in Arkansas).

Henderson 36, Southeastern Oklahoma 33 — It’s the post-Kevin Rodgers era at Henderson. Rodgers, one of the best quarterbacks to ever play at the Division II level in Arkansas, led the Reddies to 30 victories the past three seasons along with GAC championships in 2012 and 2013. His replacement, Dallas Hardison, is a winner. Hardison was 25-1 as a starter at Bentonville High School. The Reddies were 9-2 last season (losing to Ouachita and Harding) after undefeated regular seasons in 2012 and 2013. Scott Maxfield (69-38 in a decade as Henderson’s head coach) said: “Around here, we’re not satisfied with 9-2.” Durant, Okla., is not an easy place to win, and that’s where the Reddies must go Thursday. Armo Wood, who covers the Great American Conference for, picked Southeastern to finish second in the conference behind Harding and writes: “This should be the year the Savage Storm finally synchronize their offense and defense and establish themselves as one of the GAC’s top teams.” In other words, the first game of the post-Rodgers era at Henderson could be interesting.

Arkansas Tech 30, Southern Nazarene 12 — Raymond Monica begins the third year of his rebuilding effort at Arkansas Tech with a new offensive coordinator, Brent Dearmon, who was on Gus Malzahn’s staff at Auburn last year (as an analyst rather than an assistant coach). Dearmon is trying to institute the same high-tempo offense that Auburn uses. Tech was 3-8 last year. The good news is that the opener Thursday is against a team that struggled even more. Southern Nazarene, which is having a difficult time making the transition from the NAIA to NCAA Division II, finished 0-11 in 2014.

Northwestern Oklahoma 41, UAM 39 — A UAM team that finished 2-8 a year ago takes the field in Monticello on Thursday night against a Northwestern Oklahoma team that finished 3-7. Both programs are seeking an identity. In the middle of last season, Alan Hall resigned as the head coach at Northwestern Oklahoma due to health reasons. Emporia State’s offensive coordinator was hired after the season and most expect the Rangers to be improved. Meanwhile, Hud Jackson continues his rebuilding effort at Monticello, which allowed itself to fall behind the other GAC schools in Arkansas from a facilities standpoint, hampering recruiting.

Harding 51, Oklahoma Baptist 26 — Harding has been a consistent winner in recent seasons. The Bisons were 9-2 in 2014, losing to Ouachita in overtime and then not losing again until the NCAA Division II playoffs. A large number of seniors graduated from that team, but that shouldn’t hamper the Bisons on Saturday as they go on the road to play the GAC’s newest member, Oklahoma Baptist. The move from the NAIA to NCAA Division II isn’t an easy one (just ask Southern Nazarene and Northwestern Oklahoma). Oklahoma Baptist will learn that the hard way on Saturday as it attempts and fails to stop Harding’s option offense. To use the cliché, Harding no longer rebuilds. It just reloads.

Southern Arkansas 32, Southwestern Oklahoma 22 — The Muleriders finished 5-5 a year ago but led in the fourth quarter of three of those five losses. Coach Bill Keopple thinks this has the potential to be his best team yet in Magnolia. The Muleriders open at home Saturday night against Southwestern Oklahoma, which was 3-7 a year ago. If SAU can finish games in the fourth quarter this time around, it might indeed lead to a move to the top tier of the GAC (a tier dominated by Ouachita, Henderson and Harding since the conference began playing football in 2011).

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John Prock: Man of influence

Tuesday, December 30th, 2014

The information that’s compiled on football players and coaches at the NCAA Division II level isn’t nearly as extensive as the plethora of facts and figures we can find on those who play and coach at the BCS level.

Ken Bissell, a native of Nashville in Howard County and a graduate of Harding University at Searcy, knew what faced him when he began working on a book about John Prock, Harding’s head football coach from 1964-87. There would be dozens and dozens of interviews to conduct. There would be a lot of digging through old files and scrapbooks.

Google the name of any FBS head coach, and dozens of stories will appear.

Google the name of John Prock, and you won’t find much.

To me, though, John Prock was as big a college coaching name when I was growing up as any head coach in the Southwest Conference, Big Ten or SEC. You see, I was a child of the now defunct Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference, raised by a sporting goods dealer in Arkadelphia in a home that was walking distance from the football stadiums of two AIC schools. If we weren’t in Arkadelphia on a fall Saturday, we were in Searcy, Conway, Russellville, Magnolia or Monticello.

This was college football to me, and the men who were coaching those AIC teams of the 1960s and 1970s — a Prock at Harding; a Benson at Ouachita; a Sawyer, Berry or Carpenter at Henderson; a Dempsey at Arkansas Tech; a Bright or Stephens at what’s now UCA; a Powell at what’s now SAU — were among the giants of my childhood.

Buddy Benson, the head football coach at Ouachita for 31 seasons, was like an uncle to me, and Prock was the AIC coach who — at least in my mind — was most like Benson: A ruggedly handsome, tough, driven man at a private university, forced to compete without the resources of the state schools.

Ken Bissell and I have much in common. We both hail from southwest Arkansas. I graduated from Ouachita in 1981. He graduated from Harding in 1984. We both were heavily involved as students in sports writing and in sports information work at our alma maters. Our mentors were legendary small college sports information directors, Stan Green at Harding and Mac Sisson at Ouachita.

Bissell later would serve as the sports editor of The Nashville News in his hometown and The Daily Citizen in Searcy before returning to Harding as sports information director in 1987. He was a natural to write “Many Sons To Glory,” which was released this fall.

“My relationship with Coach Prock began in 1980 when I was a freshman sports reporter for The Bison, Harding’s student newspaper, and further developed as I worked for four years as a student assistant in the school’s sports information office,” Bissell writes. “I wouldn’t call our relationship close, but I always found Coach Prock to be supportive and encouraging as we interacted through the years. While studying at Harding, I debated between sports writing and coaching as a career path so I pursued a major in journalism with physical education as my minor, which placed me in Prock’s ‘Coaching Football’ class.

“He frequently poked fun at my questions in the classroom, asking if my inquiries were more from a writer’s than a coach’s perspective. I determined quickly that my skills and demeanor were better suited for the press box than the sideline, but I’ve often wondered what might have been had I chosen the life of gridiron mentor over that of journalist and later PR and marketing professional. I have no regrets, it served my family and me well, but I loved coaching my sons’ youth league teams.”

Bissell explains Prock’s “faith in his assistant coaches to squeeze every drop of talent out of the players, and his determination to stretch every dollar, even at his own expense. … Ask his former players how he influenced their lives, and they often speak with such affection that lumps fill their throats and tears come to their eyes. Many of them are successful high school head coaches with multiple state championships.

“But warm feelings from former players and successfully building a program don’t necessarily warrant writing a book about a coach. There are many sports mentors who endear themselves to their teams and face challenges with determination. What set John Prock apart was the grace with which he faced his adversity-filled youth; the faith-based example he demonstrated with his family and the young men who played for him; and the integrity, humility, character and leadership he displayed throughout his life.”

Prock, an inductee into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, died in July 2012. He was born in March 1929 in the small southwestern Oklahoma town of Hollis, which produced a fellow named Darrell Royal, another college football coach you might have heard of.

“Hollis was like any other plains town in the 1920s and ’30s,” Bissell writes. “With a population of a little more than 3,000, it was the county seat and center of commerce in Harmon County where the large majority of residents made their livings as farmers. Hard work in the fields through the week was typically rewarded with a trip to town on Saturday to buy provisions and other necessities and perhaps catch a flicker show at the LaVista movie theater. Sunday was reserved for church services and rest. That reliance on agriculture as the economic lifeblood of the nation’s breadbasket would become the bane of its existence as the Great Depression and severe drought converged to create the perfect poverty storm known as the Dust Bowl.

“The section of country that embraced the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma, southwestern Kansas, southeastern Colorado and northeastern New Mexico became vulnerable as the influx of homesteaders increased through the first two decades of the 20th century. Endless fields that had served for centuries as the grazing home to buffalo and later cattle herds were converted into millions of acres of wheat in support of World War I food efforts and beyond. Poor land management combined with a three-year drought from 1930-33 eventually destroyed the area’s topsoil. The spring winds of 1934 lifted exposed, parched dirt that was no longer bound together by native grasses and swept it into boiling storms that were aptly called Black Blizzards. Suddenly those whose livelihoods depended solely on crops were left with nothing but silty wind-blown soil covering everything in sight.”

Prock’s parents weren’t among those who headed west to California. They stayed in Oklahoma. In May 1931, Prock’s mother died. The official cause of death was blood poisoning. She was pregnant when she died. Some believed she caught her husband, who was a truck driver, in an affair and tried to abort the baby. At age 2, John Prock moved in with his paternal grandparents. His grandfather died in 1934, leaving his grandmother to raise him during the depths of the Great Depression.

Prock’s grandmother died in April 1941, leaving him to be raised as a teenager by an abusive stepmother.

“As it was with most small rural communities in the 1930s and ’40s, sports served both as an outlet and escape for young men in Hollis,” Bissell writes. “When they weren’t working in the fields, it was common to find the neighborhood boys playing summer pick-up baseball games on makeshift diamonds, fall rag-tag football scrimmages on dusty gridirons or hoops on barn-side dirt basketball courts in the cold of winter. Any boy worth his salt was honing his ball skills with dreams of playing for the Hollis High Tigers and the University of Oklahoma Sooners.”

In a 1996 interview, Prock said: “I was living with my grandmother, and I told her I wanted to be a football coach. I never changed my mind.”

Prock went on to play three seasons of college football — 1952-54 — at Southwestern Oklahoma in Weatherford, lettering each year and earning all-conference honors his final season. He graduated in three years. Prock was hired as the head football and track coach at Buffalo High School in northwest Oklahoma. As August practices approached, however, he accepted a position as an assistant coach in Clinton, Okla., where he began his coaching career under Carl Allison.

Allison, who had starred in football at the University of Oklahoma, was hired by Harding in 1959 to revive the program after a 28-year hiatus. A year later, Prock joined Allison in Searcy. Allison left Harding in 1964 to join Gomer Jones’ staff at Oklahoma. Prock was promoted to head coach. For the next 24 seasons, he would be the face of the Harding football program.

Former Harding President Clifton Ganus wrote the foreword for “Many Sons To Glory.”

“I have often said that a man is what he is taught to be,” Ganus writes. “He is the sum product of his experience and teaching, formal and informal, right or wrong, good or bad. Coach Prock is good example of this. A strong Christian, faithful family man, coach and mentor didn’t happen overnight. A lot of blood, sweat and tears helped mold him into the successful man that he became.

“An early dysfunctional family life was overcome by a loving grandmother and a junior high coach named Joe Bailey Metcalf. He also coached John in senior high and college and left a deep impression on his life. Later, his beloved Charlene entered his life, and he became a Christian. Finances were always meager, and John had to learn how to be economical and to use his hands to build and to improvise. This ability helped him greatly in years to come. John loved football, and his coach became a father figure to him. He also looked up to outstanding players and coaches, one of whom was Carl Allison, a fine Christian man who became his close friend.”

What about the book’s name?

“Many Sons To Glory” comes from the New Testament. Hebrews 2:10 to be exact: “In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering.”

At Prock’s funeral, former player Jim Citty described his old coach this way: “He was a Bulldog from Southwestern Oklahoma before he became a Bison. From his humble beginnings, he became an inspiration to many. He was resourceful and made the most of the facilities and the athletes that he was given. For those of you who didn’t play football, I know it is hard for you to understand this bond. … Coach taught us that you had to work hard, and pain was not a factor. His philosophy was that football provided one of the greatest training grounds available for life, self-discipline, team discipline and Christianity.”

The hearse drove two laps around the football field before heading to the cemetery.

Bissell describes the scene this way: “In a fitting last tribute to the man who did so much more than coach football games on that field, several former players held up a sign on the home side bleachers that read ‘Farewell Coach Prock’ as the hearse made one final lap around the track. They represented the hundreds of Prock’s sons who waged battle on that turf and were forever influenced by the humble Oklahoman.”

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College football: End of the regular season

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014


I’m a believer.

Trust me, I’ve changed my evil ways.

Yes, I picked LSU to come into Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium and defeat your beloved Hogs.

Yes, even after that 17-0 shutout, I picked Ole Miss to make the trip to Fayetteville and win.

No more.

I’m picking Arkansas over Missouri on Friday.

No ifs, ands or buts.

Let’s hope it’s not the kiss of death for the Razorbacks as you eat your Thanksgiving leftovers, pray that Aunt Jane doesn’t spend another night at your house and then settle in front of the television Friday afternoon.

For too long we had to list the bad streaks — conference losing streaks, losing streaks to ranked teams, etc.

No more.

How about some positive history:

— The first back-to-back shutouts for an Arkansas team since 2002.

— The first back-to-back shutouts for an Arkansas team in conference play since 1965. That was a Razorback squad that went undefeated in the regular season.

— The first time for an Arkansas defense to shut out an Ole Miss team since 1998, Houston Nutt’s first year as head coach.

— The first SEC team with back-to-back conference shutouts since Tennessee did it in 2002.

This is, mind you, an Ole Miss team that had outscored its first 10 opponents 83-10 in the first quarter.

The score at the end of the first quarter Saturday?

Arkansas 17, Ole Miss 0.

Arkansas now has back-to-back wins over nationally ranked teams for the first time since 2011. Jonathan Williams has topped the 1,000-yard mark in rushing (1,013 yards to be exact), only the 17th time a Razorback has done that. Alex Collins, who is at 965 yards for the season, should join the exclusive fraternity on Friday.

The turnover margin for the Hogs against Ole Miss was plus five.

Does the magic continue in Columbia?

We’re 78-15 for the year. Let’s get to the final set of picks for 2014:

Arkansas 13, Missouri 10 — With or without Brandon Allen, the Arkansas defense will come through yet again. It won’t be a shutout, but it will be enough to win and spoil Tiger hopes for an SEC East crown. It will be Georgia going to Atlanta and losing to Alabama in the conference championship game. Missouri improved to 9-2 overall and 6-1 in the SEC with Saturday’s 29-21 win at Tennessee. It was the 10th consecutive road win for Mizzou. Unfortunately for the Tigers, they’re back home in Columbia where they’ve already lost to Indiana (Indiana for gosh sakes!) by a score of 31-27 and Georgia by a score of 34-0. Faurot Field still has a bit of a Big Eight (yes, I’m that old) feel. The Hogs get it done, finish the regular season with a 7-5 record and accept an invitation to play Texas in the Liberty Bowl. Tickets sell out within an hour. The temperature in Memphis at kickoff will be 28 degrees.

Minnesota-Duluth 30, Ouachita 28 — One of these days, a Great American Conference team is going to win a playoff game. The conference is only in its fourth season and is in the toughest region in NCAA Division II. Henderson and Harding lost playoff games in 2012. Henderson lost again last season. And Harding came up short again Saturday in the first round of the Division II playoffs with a 59-42 loss at the home of a traditional small college powerhouse, Pittsburg State in Kansas. Harding led 21-0 in the first half, but the 11-1 Gorillas came back to tie the score at 21-21 by halftime and then secured a victory over one of the best Harding teams ever. Now, it’s up to 10-0 Ouachita, which hosts 12-0 Minnesota-Duluth at noon in Arkadelphia on Saturday. It has been a dream season for the GAC champion Tigers, who stand a decent chance of getting the conference its first playoff win. After 10 consecutive Saturdays of football, Ouachita received a needed bye in the first round. Minnesota-Duluth is No. 2 nationally. Ouachita is No. 7. The teams are a combined 22-0. It should be quite a game at Cliff Harris Stadium on a day when the temperature will near 70.

Arkansas State 35, New Mexico State 25 — The Red Wolf defense has disappeared in back-to-back losses to Appalachian State and Texas State. In last Thursday night’s 45-27 defeat at Texas State, the Red Wolves gave up 370 yards rushing as ASU fell to 6-5 overall and 4-3 in the Sun Belt Conference. The good news is that a bad New Mexico State team comes to Jonesboro on Saturday. The bad news is that even a 7-5 record is unlikely to get this ASU team a bowl bid. At least Red Wolf fans don’t have to worry about losing their coach this year. New Mexico State won its first two games against Cal Poly and Georgia State. The Aggies have since lost nine consecutive games — 42-24 to UTEP, 38-35 to New Mexico, 63-7 to LSU, 36-28 to Georgia Southern, 41-24 to Troy, 29-17 to Idaho, 37-29 to Texas State, 44-16 to Louisiana-Lafayette and 30-17 to Louisiana-Monroe.

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College football: Week 13

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014

It is safe for us to now officially declare that LSU is not a cold-weather team.

And how about that Arkansas defense on a frigid Saturday night in Fayetteville?

LSU finished the game with just 123 yards of offense, 250 less than its season average. The Tigers had only 36 rushing yards.

So long 17-game SEC losing streak.

So long 14-game losing streak to ranked teams, a streak that dated back to the Cotton Bowl victory over Kansas State almost three years ago.

Arkansas was the first team this season to hold LSU scoreless in the first half. The last time Arkansas had recorded a shutout victory over LSU was in 1929 in a game played at Shreveport. Huey P. Long was governor of Louisiana at the time and likely at the contest since he was a huge Tiger fan. Only the most serious Arkansas political buff would know that the Arkansas governor at the time was Harvey Parnell.

Arkansas and LSU did play to a 0-0 tie in the Cotton Bowl in 1947.

LSU had not been shut out prior to last Saturday since losing 21-0 to Alabama in the 2011 national title game. The most recent regular-season shutout loss for the Bayou Bengals had been against Alabama in November 2002.

Meanwhile, it was the first shutout victory for Arkansas since a 20-0 win over Utah State in 2006. It was the first SEC shutout for the Hogs since a 23-0 victory over South Carolina in 2002.

LSU is 25-2 under Les Miles after a loss, and Arkansas delivered that defeat both times.

So Razorback fans are feeling good again and ready to start talking bowl games.

But first things first as a Top 10 team rolls into Fayetteville on Saturday afternoon with the CBS audience watching to see if the Razorbacks are for real.

We’re 77-11 on picks for the year. Let’s get to the predictions for Week 13 of the college football season:

Ole Miss 30, Arkansas 28 — I’m tempted to crawl onto that Razorback bandwagon with you. Very tempted. Then I consider the fact that Ole Miss is coming off an open date and has had two weeks to prepare for the game. Effectively, the Rebels have had three weeks to prepare since they played Presbyterian on Nov. 8, winning 48-0 and resting their starters in the second half. This is still the Rebel team that captured the nation’s attention by winning their first seven games by scores of 35-13 over Boise State, 41-3 over Vanderbilt, 56-15 over Louisiana-Lafayette, 24-3 over Memphis, 23-17 over Alabama, 35-20 over Texas A&M and 34-3 over Tennessee. The bloom came off the Rebel rose with losses of 10-7 to LSU and 35-31 to Auburn (both of which are fading late), but this is a team that could be 10-0 with nine more points. It should be a fun game to watch. And the high probability it will be raining will make things even more interesting.

Arkansas State 21, Texas State 19 — The Red Wolves laid a giant egg last Saturday in Jonesboro, losing 37-32 to a mediocre Appalachian State team. Marcus Cox gashed ASU for 229 yards rushing, and Appalachian State scored 31 consecutive points in the game. The loss dropped ASU to 6-4 overall and 4-2 in the Sun Belt Conference. This week the Red Wolves travel to San Marcos, Texas, for a Thursday night game against Texas State. The Bobcats are 5-5 overall and 3-3 in conference. They’ve defeated UAPB, Tulsa, Idaho, Louisiana-Monroe and New Mexico State. They’ve lost to Navy, Illinois, Louisiana-Lafayette, Georgia Southern and South Alabama. We’ll give a slight edge to the Red Wolves because . . . Well, just because.

Harding 40, Pittsburg State 37 — OK, call me a Great American Conference homer. After all, the GAC is 0-3 in the NCAA Division II playoffs in its short history. Harding lost in 2012. Henderson lost in both 2012 and 2013. This is as good a Harding team as I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been seeing Harding teams play since the 1960s. The Bisons are 9-1 and one play away from being undefeated, having lost to 10-0 Ouachita in a game in which Ouachita had to score on the final play of regulation and then convert a two-point conversion just to get to overtime. With its double-slot formation, Harding is among the top rushing teams in the country and also has a senior-laden defense. Pittsburg State will be the favorite Saturday afternoon. The Gorillas are a traditional Division II powerhouse and are playing at home. They’re 10-1, losing only 7-6 to Fort Hays State. Most of their victories (just like Harding) have been by lopsided margins — 37-0, 38-7, 42-0, 23-13, 45-17, 35-17, 36-21, 41-10, 38-31 and 41-14. Harding ended the regular season with a 41-7 victory over 3-8 Arkansas Tech. I just have a feeling that it’s time for the GAC to break through.

Sam Houston State 31, UCA 24 — This UCA team has been inconsistent and hard to figure in its first season under Steve Campbell. The Bears are 6-5 overall and 5-2 in the Southland Conference. They were upset on Nov. 1 by Abilene Christian, 52-35, and then came back a week later to beat Lamar in overtime at Conway, 44-41. They’ve had two weeks to prepare for Saturday’s game in Huntsville against Sam Houston State, Dan Rather’s old alma mater. The Bearkats get the edge. They’re at home, they’re 7-4 and they’ve won four consecutive games (38-21 over Abilene Christian, 42-28 over Stephen F. Austin, 40-19 over Incarnate Word and 76-0 over Houston Baptist).

Alabama A&M 15, UAPB 14 — The Golden Lions are at home Saturday afternoon to end a disappointing season. UAPB fell to 3-7 overall and 2-6 in the SWAC with a 56-6 loss last weekend at Alcorn State. Alabama A&M is 4-7 overall and 3-5 in the SWAC. With two bad teams ending the season in the rain, this is a difficult pick. One of the teams might mail it in as far as effort.

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Tears at 10-0

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014

As the clock ticked down to 0:00 on a cold, gray Saturday afternoon, I tried to describe the scene at Carpenter-Haygood Stadium in Arkadelphia to those who were listening to the broadcast of the 88th Battle of the Ravine.

For the previous 30 minutes — since it had become likely that Ouachita Baptist University would beat Henderson State University to go to 10-0 for the first time in school history — the messages had been flooding my phone. They came from Ouachita graduates across the country who were listening online.

I attempted to paint a verbal picture as the packed Ouachita stands emptied, students and even some adults storming the field in the wake of one of the most historic victories in the rich annals of a football program that dates back to 1895. Henderson had become the giant among NCAA Division II football programs in the state, going undefeated during the regular season in 2012 and 2013 and winning the four previous Battles of the Ravine. The Reddies were 30-1 in regular-season games since the start of the 2012 season, having only lost to a talented Harding squad in the final minute earlier this season.

Ouachita was ranked No. 9, and Henderson was ranked No. 14 in Division II coming into Saturday’s game.  Despite Ouachita’s higher ranking, 100 percent of those who picked the game on the Great American Conference message board had gone with Henderson.

No doubt, the Reddies were Goliath.

As I drove from my home in Little Rock to Arkadelphia on Saturday morning, the clouds thickened. The day reminded me of the Saturday before Thanksgiving in 1975 when Ouachita and Henderson met in another classic at the same stadium. The two schools held a joint homecoming for a few years in the 1970s with the game played each season at Henderson’s newer and larger stadium. Even though the 1975 contest was at Henderson, it was technically Ouachita’s home game and Ouachita sports information director Mac Sisson was on the public address system that day.

Mac would always give the weather before the game, and I can still remember his words in that distinctive baritone: “Winds out of the north at 10 to 15 miles per hour with a temperature of 29 degrees.”

A bit of personal history: I grew up a block from Ouachita’s football stadium, the son of a former Ouachita quarterback and a former Ouachitonian beauty (I still have the yearbook in which my mother was featured as such). I’ve bled purple since birth.

The football series between Ouachita and Henderson was suspended following the 1951 game due to excessive vandalism and was not resumed until 1963. I would have been 4 years old in 1963, and I would have been at the Battle of the Ravine. I’ve been at every Battle of the Ravine since 1963, in fact, with the exception of the 1986-87 games when I was working for the Arkansas Democrat in Washington, D.C. It is, to put it simply, a part of who I am.

Like most boys who grew up in Arkansas, I rooted for the Razorbacks. Unlike most boys, Arkansas was not my main team. Ouachita was.

We didn’t often go to Hog games in Fayetteville or Little Rock. We were too busy following Ouachita. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of trips back from places like Searcy, Conway, Russellville, Magnolia and Monticello in the back of my father’s big Oldsmobile.

From about age 6 through high school, I walked the Ouachita sidelines during games. Legendary Coach Buddy Benson was like an uncle to me, and he welcomed a group of boys — Tab Turner, Neal Turner, Mike Balay, Richard Balay and others — to work as ball boys and water boys.

I was in the 10th grade when that 1975 game occurred. I played high school football on Friday nights but spent my Saturdays watching Ouachita. On the morning of the game, I accompanied the team’s head manager, Wesley Kluck, to my father’s downtown sporting goods store to borrow Coleman stoves, which we put along the sideline so the players could warm their hands on the frigid afternoon.

Henderson was 9-0. Ouachita was 8-1, having lost to Southern Arkansas in Magnolia three weeks earlier. Both teams were ranked nationally.

I love those November games that begin in the daylight and end under the lights. The lights were on and darkness had descended on Arkadelphia. Ouachita trailed 20-14 and faced a fourth-and-25 with time running out.

One last chance.

Quarterback Bill Vining Jr., who had grown up just down the street from me in the Ouachita Hills neighborhood, passed to Gary Reese across the middle. Out came the chains.

The stadium was packed but dead quiet as those chains were stretched. The referee went to a knee for a better look. Then, he came up and signaled that Ouachita had made a first down by inches.

New life.

Two plays later, Vining passed to Ken Stuckey for a touchdown. Russell Daniel kicked the extra point.

Ouachita 21, Henderson 20.

I’ve had the good fortune in my career of covering Super Bowls, Sugar Bowls, Cotton Bowls and more. That still rates as the greatest football game I ever attended.

I still have a photo of the players carrying Coach Benson off the field. It was among the most memorable days of my life.

I thought about that day as I pulled into the parking lot of Henderson’s Carpenter-Haygood at noon last Saturday.

Same stadium. Same weather. Same big stakes.

At age 55, I find myself becoming more nostalgic.

I sat in my car for several minutes before walking to the press box and thought about the past.

I thought about how I wish my dad, who died in March 2011, could be here. Oh, how he would have enjoyed the atmosphere that electrified Arkadelphia.

Dad had been raised poor during the Great Depression in Benton. Following his high school graduation in 1942, he took a job with the Chicago Bridge & Iron Co., which was building the aluminum plant in Saline County. The United States had entered World War II in December 1941, and there was a rush to get the plant finished so it could contribute to the war effort. Dad was paid union wages and found himself making more than his father had ever made. He told his parents that he would stay with the company rather than going to college.

He had been offered a football scholarship to Ouachita, and my grandmother was insistent that he go to college, something neither she nor my grandfather had done. She called the Ouachita head coach, Bill Walton, and ordered him not to let my father come home once he reached campus for a visit.

The 1942 Ouachita team went 9-1, losing only to Union University in Jackson, Tenn. Dad joined the Army Air Corps the following spring and served for two years. He returned to Ouachita after the war to obtain a degree and played on the 1945, 1946 and 1947 teams. He met a pretty young lady named Carolyn Caskey from Des Arc and married her prior to graduation in the spring of 1948.

My sister was recently cleaning out the house we grew up in and found the program from the Battle of the Ravine on Thanksgiving Day 1947. My father is listed as the starting quarterback. She gave me the program, which I now consider to be among my most cherished possessions.

As I sat in my car Saturday, I also thought of Coach Benson, who was my childhood hero along with my father and Coach Bill Vining Sr. This would have been his type of game. Buddy Benson had been among the nation’s most highly recruited high school players coming out of high school at De Queen. He signed with Oklahoma, a powerhouse in those days, but later transferred to Arkansas, where he threw the famous Powder River pass to beat nationally ranked Ole Miss at War Memorial Stadium in 1954.

Coach Benson was the head coach at Ouachita for an amazing 31 seasons, winning more than he lost while playing much larger state schools with bigger athletic budgets. He passed away on Good Friday in that terrible spring of 2011, just weeks after I had lost my dad.

I also thought of the aforementioned Mac Sisson, my college mentor who gave me the chance as an untested freshman in 1978 to begin broadcasting Ouachita games, something I’m still doing all these years later. Mac and I spent fall Saturdays for years traveling through Arkansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Texas and other states for Ouachita games. I miss him every day.

I thought of family friends like Ike Sharp and his son Paul, also gone. They had both played at Ouachita and personified what my alma mater’s football program is all about.

To be fair, I thought of men who had been among my mentors who were on the Henderson side and are also gone, coaches with names like Wells, Sawyer and Reese. They were giants to me. They also would have enjoyed this big-game atmosphere.

Ouachita trailed 17-7 in the first quarter of Saturday’s game, and it appeared the Reddies were poised to blow the Tigers out.

I didn’t say it on the radio, but I thought at that point in the game about something Coach Benson would tell his team before every game: “If at first the game or breaks go against you, don’t get shook or rattled. Put on more steam.”

You see, it’s a 60-minute game.

Coach Benson had played for Bowden Wyatt at Arkansas. Wyatt had played for Gen. Robert Neyland at Tennessee. Wyatt would repeat Neyland’s pregame maxims before each game. Buddy Benson would continue that tradition at Ouachita.

Ouachita indeed put on more steam, outscoring the powerful Reddies 34-3 the rest of the way.

I counted down the final seconds on the radio and looked at the Ouachita fans pouring from the stands. That’s when the tears came.

Silly, you say, for a 55-year-old man to cry at the end of an athletic contest. It’s only a game, you say.

I’m sorry, but it’s more than a game to me. Ouachita football has been one of my passions since birth.

My wish for my sons and for you as we near Thanksgiving is that you have one or more great passions. It might be a passion for music. It might be a passion for acting. It might be a passion for writing. It doesn’t have to have anything to do with sports. It has to do with finding something you care about deeply throughout your life. It’s even more special if you’ve suffered defeats so you more fully appreciate the high points.

I know defeat.

So does Ouachita’s head coach, Todd Knight. I was on the committee that was appointed to search for a head coach following the resignation of Red Parker at Ouachita after the 1998 season. We ended up offering the job to Knight, a former Ouachita player, who had led the Delta State in Mississippi to its first Gulf South Conference title. Delta is bigger, richer and had things rolling.

Todd turned down our offer. He turned it down multiple times. The then-Ouachita president, Andy Westmoreland, wouldn’t take no for an answer. He kept telling Todd to pray about it. Shortly before Christmas, Todd decided to come to Ouachita despite having recruited players to Delta who would win the Division II national championship in 2000.

His 1999 team started 3-1 but, lacking depth, finished 3-7. When you’re a small school like Ouachita, you welcome anyone who wants to jump aboard the bandwagon. Yet I suspect this year’s undefeated season is even more special for those of us who were in Tahlequah, Okla., on the afternoon of Oct. 16, 1999, as Northeastern State beat Ouachita by a score of 57-0. Or those of us who were there for the last game that season as Harding beat Ouachita by a score of 41-7.

Seven of Todd Knight’s first nine seasons at Ouachita, one of the smallest schools in the country to play the sport at the Division II level, were losing campaigns. Most schools wouldn’t have stuck with a coach that long. Ouachita stuck with Todd Knight, and Todd Knight stuck with Ouachita.

Patience paid off.

Ouachita is now the only college football program in the state — at any level — with seven consecutive winning seasons.

So as the students stormed the field and the tears rolled down my cheeks at about 6 p.m. Saturday, my mind wandered.

I thought about Dad, Coach Benson, Ike Sharp, Paul Sharp, Mac Sisson and other men who bled purple who were watching from above.

I thought about Coach Knight and that day in Tahlequah when I had struggled to broadcast the end of a 57-0 blowout.

I thought about how happy I was for the students, the faculty, the staff, the alumni and the other good people associated with this school that has been so much a part of my life.

I thought about my wife and son sitting in the cold across the way, no doubt also enjoying the moment.

I thought of past Ouachita presidents like Dan Grant and Ben Elrod, Arkansas leaders who know how difficult it is for a little school like Ouachita to make it to 10-0.

And I thought about how happy I was to share it all with what I call my “Saturday family,” the men with whom I share the broadcast booth.

My childhood friend Jeff Root, who grew up a few houses down Carter Road from my house, has been in the broadcast booth with me for more than a quarter of a century. Jeff, who is now the dean of the School of Humanities at Ouachita, and I have a special bond. Jeff also was on the committee that hired Coach Knight. Saturday was the culmination of all we had hoped for 16 years ago.

I also was glad to have Richard Atkinson and Patrick Fleming, who have been in the booth for eight years, there. It’s hard to explain to those who aren’t broadcasters, but you really do become like family.

I continued to broadcast — after all, there was still work to do on the postgame show– as the tears ran down my cheeks. I’m not really sure what I said, though. On this cold November day, I had been transported back in time.

I was a kid again, marveling at my good fortune; the good fortune of one who grew up in a small town in the South and attended a small school where people call you by your name and care about you. A place where people give you opportunities. After all, who has ever heard of a 19-year-old college play-by-play man?

Once again, I was in the back seat of the Oldsmobile, fighting to keep my eyes open as Dad drove us through the autumn Arkansas night, home from a Ouachita victory.

Once again, Buddy Benson was on the sideline in his starched shirt and tie, and Mac Sisson was in the press box.

Once again, my beloved Tigers were on top and the future was limitless.

I’m blessed; blessed beyond description as we enter another Thanksgiving season.

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