Archive for the ‘Football’ Category

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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Rex’s Rankings: One week in

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014

We’re one week into the high school playoffs, and there have been no big surprises thus far.

Things should get interesting this Friday night.

It will be warmer than the frigid conditions that were faced by playoff teams last Friday, though the chance of rain exists.

Join us on the radio from 10 p.m. until midnight Friday as we break it all down with live reports from across the state. We’re on almost 50 stations.

Let’s get to the rankings:

Overall

1. Conway

2. North Little Rock

3. Pulaski Academy

4. Benton

5. Bentonville

6. Fort Smith Southside

7. Jonesboro

8. Batesville

9. Greenwood

10. Bryant

Class 7A

1. Conway

2. North Little Rock

3. Bentonville

4. Fort Smith Southside

5. Bryant

Class 6A

1. Benton

2. Jonesboro

3. Greenwood

4. El Dorado

5. Pine Bluff

Class 5A

1. Pulaski Academy

2. Batesville

3. Maumelle

4. Wynne

5. Camden Fairview

Class 4A

1. Dardanelle

2. Nashville

3. Pine Bluff Dollarway

4. Pea Ridge

5. Warren

Class 3A

1. Charleston

2. Prescott

3. Smackover

4. Episcopal

5. Booneville

Class 2A

1. Junction City

2. Hazen

3. Rison

4. Bearden

5. Hector

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College football: The Battle of the Ravine

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014

It’s time for one of the South’s best college football rivalries.

No, silly, not the Battle for the Golden Boot.

That series took a one-two punch to the solar plexus when the wise men on The Hill decided to move the game out of Little Rock and when the Southeastern Conference decided it no longer would be played the week of Thanksgiving.

Now, it’s just another late-season game.

We’re talking about the Battle of the Ravine, one of the nation’s oldest rivalries and the only one in which the visiting team walks to a road game.

Rarely has there been a buildup to compare to that surrounding this Saturday afternoon’s game at Carpenter-Haygood Stadium in Arkadelphia.

Ouachita is 9-0 and has already assured itself a share of its second Great American Conference championship in four years.

Henderson is 9-1, having lost in the final minute at home to Harding after going undefeated in the regular seasons of 2012 and 2013.

The Arkadelphia teams feature two of the best quarterbacks in NCAA Division II, both of whom could start for a lot of Division I schools.

Henderson has senior Kevin Rodgers, the state’s all-time leader in passing yardage who has started for the Reddies since the middle of his freshman season.

Ouachita has Kiehl Frazier, who was the USA Today National Offensive Player of the Year coming out of high school at Shiloh Christian in Springdale and signed with Auburn University. Frazier was starting as a quarterback in the Southeastern Conference by his sophomore season. He lost the job, wanted to play quarterback his senior year, came home to Arkansas and enrolled in the small school where his brother is an offensive lineman.

The rest, as they say, is history. He has helped give Ouachita a dream season, leading the Tigers to the first 9-0 start in school history.

Ouachita is ranked No. 9 nationally in the American Football Coaches Association Division II poll.

Henderson is ranked No. 14.

Henderson and Ouachita have the two top college programs in the state during the past five seasons based on winning percentages. It only adds to the intrigue that they’re right across the street from each other.

This reminds me of the final game of 1975, when the roles were reversed, though the stadium was the same.

Henderson was undefeated coming into that Battle of the Ravine 39 years ago and had already ensured itself a share of the Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference championship.

Ouachita had won loss, having slipped up three weeks earlier against Southern Arkansas in Magnolia.

In what still ranks in my mind as the greatest college football game I’ve ever attended, Ouachita came from behind late to win 21-20 and earn a share of the AIC title.

Henderson will be trying to make Ouachita share the title this Saturday.

There’s one aspect in which the roles aren’t reversed. Henderson was favored in 1975, and Henderson is favored again this year. When I last checked the GAC message board on the main Division II website, 100 percent of those who had picked the game had gone with the Reddies.

Henderson has won four consecutive games in the series, which dates back to 1895 and was suspended from 1951-63 due to excessive vandalism. Last year’s battle was a classic with Henderson winning 60-52 in three overtimes. Ouachita led in the second overtime and had Henderson down to fourth down twice. But Rodgers converted passes each time to stave off defeat, the first one for a first down and the second one for the touchdown that sent the game to a third overtime. It makes me tired just thinking of that game.

We were 7-0 on the picks last week, making the record for the season 74-8.

Here are the picks for Week 12 of the college football season:

Henderson 38, Ouachita 35 — Based strictly on talent, Henderson should be a two-touchdown favorite. But rivalry games like this one are tough to call. In a magical season, the one weak spot for Ouachita has been the Tiger secondary. Southern Arkansas quarterback Si Blackshire torched the Tigers for 415 yards passing two weeks ago even though Ouachita won 38-28. Rodgers should throw for even more yards on Saturday. Based on that and the fact that the Reddies are playing on their side of the ravine, we’ll give the slight edge to Henderson.

LSU 19, Arkansas 14 — Is this the game when the Razorbacks finally get over the hump against an SEC opponent? It’s hard to figure out how Arkansas was established as a slight favorite when the Hogs are 4-5 overall and 0-5 in the SEC. LSU is 7-3 and 3-3. The Tigers began the season with wins against Wisconsin, Sam Houston State and Louisiana-Monroe before falling to Mississippi State, 34-29. A victory over New Mexico State was followed by a decisive loss at Auburn and an overtime victory over Florida. LSU has played well in its past three games, beating Kentucky by a score of 41-3, upsetting Ole Miss by a score of 10-7 and then falling in overtime to Alabama by a score of 13-10. Remember that the Tigers have only lost two consecutive games once in Les Miles’ 10 seasons as head coach.

Arkansas State 37, Appalachian State 31 — Arkansas State played its best game of the season last Saturday in Jonesboro. The Red Wolves didn’t commit a turnover and scored on six of eight possessions en route to a 45-10 victory. It was the fourth consecutive game for the ASU offense to top 40 points, the first time in school history that has happened. The Red Wolves are now 6-3 overall and 4-1 in the Sun Belt Conference. They’re back in Jonesboro on Saturday afternoon for a 2 p.m. game against an Appalachian State team that’s 4-5 overall and 3-2 in the Sun Belt. Applachian State’s victories have come over Campbell, Troy, Georgia State and Louisiana-Monroe. The losses have been to Michigan, Southern Mississippi, Georgia Southern, South Alabama and Liberty. The visitors have won three consecutive games following a 1-5 start.

Alcorn State 34, UAPB 15 — The Golden Lions got blown out on homecoming last Saturday by a score of 51-23 against Prairie View A&M. UAPB is 3-6 overall and 2-5 in the SWAC and must visit an Alcorn State team that has already wrapped up the SWAC East Division title with records of 6-1 in conference and 8-2 overall. Alcorn’s only defeats have come against Southern Mississippi and Grambling. Alcorn has won its past three games by scores of 40-25 against Texas Southern, 77-48 against Prairie View and 41-14 against Alabama A&M.

Harding 30, Arkansas Tech 10 — Harding is 8-1 with only an overtime loss to Ouachita. Harding fans are in a tough situation this week. They need Henderson to win in order for their Bisons to earn a share of the GAC title. But they need Ouachita to win for Harding to have a chance at a playoff berth. A very, very good Harding team may stay at home during the postseason. Arkansas Tech is 3-6 with an excellent defense and an awful offense. Tech fell last Saturday by a score of 22-5 at Southeastern Oklahoma. Harding should win with ease this week.

Southern Arkansas 36, UAM 17 — It has been a frustrating season for both of these south Arkansas teams. Southern Arkansas has a fine quarterback in Blackshire but has managed only a 4-5 record. UAM is 2-7 and trailed Ouachita last Saturday by a score of 44-0 at the half.  Blackshire should be too much for the Boll Weevils on Saturday.

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Rex’s Rankings: Let the playoffs begin

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

It’s playoff time.

Wrap up for a cold Friday night, and let’s start on the Road to the Rock.

It’s my favorite time of the year.

Here are the rankings at the end of the regular season:

Overall

1. Conway

2. North Little Rock

3. Pulaski Academy

4. Benton

5. Bentonville

6. Fort Smith Southside

7. Jonesboro

8. Batesville

9. Greenwood

10. Bryant

Class 7A

1. Conway

2. North Little Rock

3. Bentonville

4. Fort Smith Southside

5. Bryant

Class 6A

1. Benton

2. Jonesboro

3. Greenwood

4. El Dorado

5. Pine Bluff

Class 5A

1. Pulaski Academy

2. Batesville

3. Maumelle

4. Wynne

5. Camden Fairview

Class 4A

1. Dardanelle

2. Nashville

3. Pine Bluff Dollarway

4. Pea Ridge

5. Warren

Class 3A

1. Charleston

2. Prescott

3. Smackover

4. Little Rock Episcopal

5. Booneville

Class 2A

1. Junction City

2. Hazen

3. Rison

4. Bearden

5. Hector

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College football: Week 11

Thursday, November 6th, 2014

Razorback fans can take a week off from their agony, left to debate whether they should still declare “moral victories” in the midst of a 17-game Southeastern Conference losing streak.

The school record for consecutive conference losses is 20, set from 1940-43. So Arkansas must win one of its final three games — LSU, Ole Miss or Missouri — to keep from tying that record this season.

I was in the stands on that cold day last November when Mississippi State escaped War Memorial Stadium with an overtime victory over the Razorbacks. None of us could have guessed at the time that it would mark the start of what’s now an 11-game winning streak for the Bulldogs. That’s one of the many reasons I love college football. You can go from agony to ecstasy from one year to the next. Razorback followers should keep that in mind.

It helps to have a quality quarterback, of course. Even on only one good leg, Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott was 18 of 27 passing for a career-high 331 yards against the Hogs.

Arkansas is now 4-17 against No. 1 teams with the most recent win over a No. 1 being that 50-48 triple-overtime victory against LSU at Baton Rouge seven years ago to end the HDN era. The Razorbacks have now lost 14 consecutive games to ranked teams with the most recent win over a ranked opponent being the victory over Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 7, 2012.

So here’s to the Hog faithful taking a break, enjoying the first day of deer season or even checking out one of the other teams in the state. Try it. You might like it. There are games Saturday at Jonesboro, Conway, Pine Bluff, El Dorado and Monticello, so there’s no excuse not to get out and enjoy a college football game.

We were 6-2 on the picks last week, making the record 67-8 for the season.

Let’s get to the predictions for Week 11:

Arkansas State 30, South Alabama 28 — Two 5-3 teams square off at Jonesboro on Saturday afternoon. Arkansas State improved to 3-1 in the Sun Belt Conference last week with a 44-28 victory at Idaho. It was the third consecutive road game for the Red Wolves, who were sluggish in the first half. ASU now has three of its final four games at home. Michael Gordon had a Sun Belt record five touchdown runs last week as ASU scored 35 points off Idaho turnovers. The Red Wolves led only 30-28 going into the fourth quarter. They’ll have to play better this week. South Alabama’s victories have come against Kent State, Idaho, Appalachian State, Georgia State and Troy. The losses have been to No. 1 Mississippi State, Georgia Southern and Louisiana-Lafayette. We’ll give the inconsistent Red Wolves a slight edge since they’re playing at home.

UCA 27, Lamar 21 — Speaking of inconsistent, it’s hard to know which UCA team is going to show up from week to week. The Bad News Bears showed up in Plano, Texas, last Saturday as UCA fell to 5-5 overall and 4-2 in the Southland Conference with a 52-35 loss to Abilene Christian. The Bears had seven turnovers, and Abilene Christian scored 31 points off those turnovers. Abilene Christian did it despite its starting quarterback not playing. This is a pretty good Lamar team that comes to Conway on Saturday. Lamar has posted six wins. They’ve come against Grambling, Texas College, Mississippi College, Abilene Christian, Nicholls and Houston Baptist. Granted, that’s a weak slate of teams. The losses have been to Texas A&M, Sam Houston State and Southeastern Louisiana. Once more, the advantage goes to the home team.

Prairie View A&M 19, UAPB 17 — It’s homecoming at Pine Bluff on Saturday afternoon, which means the biggest crowd of the season. This is a battle of two 3-5 teams. UAPB won its second consecutive game last Saturday, 24-14, against Mississippi Valley State to go to 2-4 in the SWAC. The Golden Lions took a 17-0 lead at halftime and then hung on. Prairie View started the season 0-4 with losses to Texas Southern, McNeese State, Southern University and Grambling. Prairie View then won games against Jackson State, Alabama State and Mississippi Valley State before falling to Alcorn State. UAPB was hit hard by NCAA sanctions this week, and Prairie View has had two weeks to prepare for this game.

Ouachita 39, UAM 29 — Ouachita goes to Monticello on Saturday afternoon with a chance to wrap up at least a share of its second Great American Conference championship in four years. The Tigers also have an opportunity to go to 9-0 for the first time in school history. Ouachita improved to 8-0 for the first time since 1914 last week with a 38-28 win over a decent Southern Arkansas team in Arkadelphia. The Tigers trailed 21-17 after three quarters but scored 21 consecutive points to start the fourth quarter and put the game away. SAU quarterback Si Blackshire passed for more than 400 yards against Ouachita. The Tiger secondary has been suspect this season so you should expect the 2-6 Boll Weevils, under the guidance of quarterback Hunter Leppert, to score plenty of points.

Henderson 47, Southern Arkansas 31 — The Reddies and Muleriders square off in the Boomtown Classic at El Dorado on Saturday afternoon. SAU is 4-4 with all of its wins coming at home and the four losses coming on the road. It will be interesting to see how the Muleriders compete at a neutral location. Between Blackshire and Henderson’s Kevin Rodgers, there should be plenty of yards gained and points scored. The Reddies bounced back from their loss to Harding to beat UAM, 49-7, last Saturday at Arkadelphia. Rodgers was 28 of 36 passing for 346 yards and three touchdowns. Henderson is 7-1 and needs to win its final two games to secure at least a share of the GAC title and a trip to the NCAA Division II playoffs.

Harding 45, East Central Oklahoma 25 — Just looking at the records, you would expect 6-2 East Central to give 7-1 Harding a close game. But except for Ouachita’s last-second heroics on Oct. 18 at Searcy, no one has been able to handle the Bisons this year. Harding cruised to a 51-6 victory over Southeastern Oklahoma a week ago with 467 yards on the ground. Six Bisons had rushing touchdowns in that game. Harding looks well on its way to a 9-1 regular season.

Southeastern Oklahoma 13, Arkansas Tech 10 — It has been a frustrating season for the 3-6 Wonder Boys, who have a good defense but no offense to speak of.  Tech lost 15-0 last week in Russellville to East Central Oklahoma. The Wonder Boys had just 47 yards rushing and 114 yards passing in that game. Southeastern has a record of 5-4 and typically plays well at home in Durant.

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Rex’s Rankings: One week left

Monday, November 3rd, 2014

There’s only one week left in the regular season, and the playoffs are beginning to take shape.

This is that strange week when almost half of the games are played on Thursday rather than Friday night.

Sylvan Hills fell out of the Top 10 following a 41-37 loss to Beebe.

Batesville moved into the No. 10 slot after its 40-7 victory over Greene County Tech.

The top nine teams remained the same.

Games to watch this week: Benton vs. Pine Bluff, Fort Smith Northside vs. Fort Smith Southside, Conway vs. Bryant, Fayetteville vs. Bentonville, Pulaski Academy vs. Sylvan Hills.

Here are the rankings after nine weeks of the high school football season:

Overall

1. Conway

2. Fayetteville

3. North Little Rock

4. Pulaski Academy

5. Fort Smith Northside

6. Bryant

7. Benton

8. Pine Bluff

9. Jonesboro

10. Batesville

Class 7A

1. Conway

2. Fayetteville

3. North Little Rock

4. Fort Smith Northside

5. Bryant

Class 6A

1. Benton

2. Pine Bluff

3. Jonesboro

4. Greenwood

5. El Dorado

Class 5A

1. Pulaski Academy

2. Batesville

3. Maumelle

4. Wynne

5. Sylvan Hills

Class 4A

1. Warren

2. Dardanelle

3. Nashville

4. Dollarway

5. Pea Ridge

Class 3A

1. Charleston

2. Prescott

3. Smackover

4. Little Rock Episcopal

5. Booneville

Class 2A

1. Junction City

2. Hazen

3. Rison

4. Bearden

5. Hector

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College football: Week 10

Thursday, October 30th, 2014

Thank goodness for nonconference games.

Arkansas evened its record at 4-4 last Saturday with a 45-17 breather in Fayetteville against the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

All four of Arkansas’ victories have come in nonconference contests. Bret Bielema, who has never won a conference game as a Southeastern Conference head coach, is now 7-1 against nonconference opponents.

Unfortunately for the Razorbacks, it’s back to the SEC West this week.

In fact, it’s the No. 1 team in the country. And it’s on the road.

Mississippi State: No. 1.

That still has a strange ring to it, doesn’t it?

Will the Bulldog magic come to an end in Starkville on Saturday night?

Football analysts across the country kept saying Arkansas would have a breakthrough game — at least they were saying that prior to the debacle against Georgia at War Memorial Stadium two weeks ago. This would be a good time for that breakthrough SEC game.

We were 6-1 on the picks last week, making the record 61-6 for the season.

Let’s get to the predictions for Week 10 of the college football season:

Mississippi State 30, Arkansas 21 — Will it be the Arkansas team that almost knocked off Alabama in Fayetteville or the team that laid an egg against Georgia in Little Rock? Arkansas will need to have success on the ground and, in the process, limit the number of possessions for Dak Prescott & Co. Against UAB, Jonathan Williams rushed for 153 yards and one touchdown with 109 of those yards coming in the first half. Alex Collins finished with 82 yards rushing. Mississippi State had to work hard in Lexington, meanwhile, in its 45-31 victory over Kentucky. That game was in doubt until the Bulldogs’ Christian Holmes returned a short kickoff 61 yards for a touchdown with 2:22 remaining. Prescott ran for two touchdowns and passed for another. He had 216 yards passing and 88 yards rushing. It was Mississippi State’s 10th consecutive victory. Look for Arkansas to hang around for at least three quarters this Saturday night.

Arkansas State 40, Idaho 29 — The Red Wolves have had 11 days to prepare for this game. It was not a good performance on Tuesday of last week as ASU fell at Louisiana-Lafayette by a score of 55-40 in one of those awful Tuesday night affairs. At least the 4-3 Red Wolves get to play on a Saturday this time around. And even though the game is on the road, at least they get to take on a weaker opponent in Idaho, which comes in with a 1-6 record. The Vandals’ lone victory came on Oct. 18 against New Mexico State, 29-17. The losses have been to Louisiana-Monroe, Western Michigan, Ohio, South Alabama, Texas State and Georgia Southern.

UCA 31, Abilene Christian 25 — The Bears are 5-4 overall and 4-1 in the Southland Conference following an impressive 58-35 victory over Northwestern State of Louisiana at Conway last Saturday night. UCA had 306 rushing yards with Willie Matthews getting 114 of those. Ryan Howard was 13 of 16 passing for 150 yards and one touchdown. The ground game was so dominant that the Bears only threw three passes in the second half. There are five teams bunched at the top of the Southland Conference standings with one conference loss each. UCA and Southeastern Louisiana are 4-1. Stephen F. Austin, McNeese State and Sam Houston State are 3-1. Abilene Christian, 4-5, is at home Saturday, but the Bears should have enough firepower to overcome the Texas team. The four Abilene Christian victories have come against Troy, Incarnate Word, Houston Baptist and Ave Maria. The losses have been to Georgia State, Northern Arizona, Lamar, McNeese State and Sam Houston State.

UAPB 20, Mississippi Valley State 19 — UAPB got its first SWAC victory of the season last Saturday, blocking a 37-yard field goal attempt in the final seconds of a 38-37 win over Texas Southern in Houston. The Golden Lions had gone ahead with 2:15 left in the game on a 69-yard pass from Ben Anderson to Willie Young. UAPB is now 2-5 overall and 1-4 in conference play. SWAC games are hard to predict because the teams are so inconsistent. It’s especially hard to make the call between a 2-5 UAPB squad and a 2-6 Mississippi Valley State team. The only Mississippi Valley State wins have been over University of Faith and Jackson State. The losses have been to Illinois State, Alabama State, Alcorn State, Alabama A&M, Texas Southern and Prairie View A&M. We’ll give a slight edge to the Golden Lions since the game is in Pine Bluff.

Ouachita 28, Southern Arkansas 24 — Ouachita is 7-0 for the first time since 1914. That’s right. It has been a century. And the Tigers suddenly find themselves alone atop the Great American Conference standings after Harding’s victory over Henderson last Saturday. Ouachita, the only undefeated college football team remaining in Arkansas and the only college program in the state with seven consecutive winning seasons, relied on its defense a week ago to overcome Arkansas Tech, 14-9. Senior quarterback Kiehl Frazier was about the only bright spot on offense for the Tigers as he passed for 173 yards and ran for another 41 yards, accounting for 215 of his team’s 300 yards of offense. Southern Arkansas has defeated Ouachita each of the past two seasons and seems to have found a quarterback in Si Blackshire. The Muleriders are 4-3 but have had two weeks to prepare for the game and have a chance to pull the upset at Cliff Harris Stadium in Arkadelphia.

Henderson 49, UAM 22 — Coming into their homecoming game last week at Carpenter-Haygood Stadium in Arkadelphia, the Reddies had moved up to No. 4 in NCAA Division II and had Division II’s longest regular-season winning streak at 30 games. That all ended with a 28-24 loss to Harding. Trailing 24-21, Harding recovered a fumbled pass reception with 4:36 remaining and then took 10 plays to score. The winning touchdown came with 17 seconds left on a three-yard reverse by NFL prospect Donatella Luckett. The Reddies are back home in Arkadelphia on Saturday afternoon. Look for them to bounce back in a big way against a 2-5 UAM team that had to struggle for a 44-37 victory last week against winless Southern Nazarene. Hunter Leppert passed for 323 yards in that game for the Boll Weevils.

Harding 37, Southeastern Oklahoma 17 — The Bisons went from the lowest of lows (an overtime loss to Ouachita at home in Searcy) to the highest of highs (the victory over Henderson on the road) in a week’s time. Harding led Henderson in time of possession, 43:58 to 16:02. Henderson was held to 115 yards of total offense in the second half, and the Bisons finished with a 379-356 advantage in total yards. Expect this 6-1 Harding team to finish the regular season 9-1, playing in either the Division II playoffs or the Live United Bowl at Texarkana.

Arkansas Tech 16, East Central Oklahoma 14 — Arkansas Tech is just 3-5 overall, but the Wonder Boys have a defense that gets better each week. If Tech could ever find an offense, it would be dangerous. East Central Oklahoma, which has a 5-2 record, will enter Saturday afternoon’s game at Russellville as the favorite. Expect Tech, which draws well in Russellville, to squeeze out just enough points to pull off the upset at home.

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Rex’s Rankings: After eight weeks

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014

There are two weeks left in the regular season, and things are getting interesting in high school football in Arkansas.

No changes occurred in our overall Top 10 as all of the teams won last week. In fact, the top nine teams all won by double-digit margins.

There are, however, some things to watch for as the playoffs near:

– In Class 7A, watch for Bentonville. The Tigers lost their first four games and have since won four consecutive contests. They know all about winning late in the season.

– By the same token, watch for Greenwood in Class 6A. Uncharacteristically, the Bulldogs have lost three games this year. But, like Bentonville, they know all about winning late.

– In Class 4A, watch for traditional powers that wear orange. In other words, Warren and Nashville.

– In Class 3A, keep an eye on this week’s Charleston-Booneville game. One of these two teams likely will go on to win the state championship.

– In Class 2A, watch what we’re now calling the University of Junction City just to see if anyone comes within 30 points of the Dragons. We doubt it. The most recent victim was Strong by a score of 60-6.

Here are the rankings with two weeks remaining in the regular season:

Overall

1. Conway

2. Fayetteville

3. North Little Rock

4. Pulaski Academy

5. Fort Smith Northside

6. Bryant

7. Benton

8. Pine Bluff

9. Jonesboro

10. Sylvan Hills

Class 7A

1. Conway

2. Fayetteville

3. North Little Rock

4. Fort Smith Northside

5. Bryant

Class 6A

1. Benton

2. Pine Bluff

3. Jonesboro

4. Greenwood

5. El Dorado

Class 5A

1. Pulaski Academy

2. Sylvan Hills

3. Batesville

4. Maumelle

5. Wynne

Class 4A

1. Warren.

2. Dardanelle

3. Nashville

4. Pocahontas

5. Pine Bluff Dollarway

Class 3A

1. Charleston

2. Booneville

3. Prescott

4. Smackover

5. Little Rock Episcopal

Class 2A

1. Junction City

2. Hazen

3. Rison

4. Hector

5. Bearden

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College football: Week 9

Monday, October 20th, 2014

Some of you have complained about next year’s University of Arkansas football schedule since it has Toledo coming to the capital city for the only Little Rock game.

Frankly, I may be ready to say “bring on Toledo” just so Arkansas can win a game again at War Memorial Stadium.

The Hogs are 1-4 in Little Rock in the PMA (Post Motorcycle Accident) era.

The most recent Southeastern Conference win at Little Rock was 44-17 over Mississippi State in 2011. The overall record is still sterling: 149-56-2 in games played at War Memorial Stadium and 167-69-4 in all games played at Little Rock through the decades.

Arkansas had the dubious distinction Saturday of being the first SEC West team to lose to a squad from outside the division. The West had been 26-0 going into the game against Georgia. So we’re at 16 consecutive conference losses for Arkansas. It has been more than two years now since the most recent SEC victory. It was Oct. 13, 2012, to be exact, and the opponent that rainy night in Fayetteville was Kentucky.

I guess that means it’s time to go to the record books. The school record for conference losses is 20 from 1940-43. That may be a record that’s broken. Arkansas will tie it by the end of this season if it can’t upset one of these teams — Mississippi State, Ole Miss, LSU or Missouri.

Brandon Allen did set career bests for completions, attempts and yards. He was 28 of 45 passing for 292 yards and three touchdowns. But Georgia running back Nick Chubb countered with 202 yards rushing on 30 carries, averaging 6.7 yards per carry. The Bulldogs haven’t missed Todd Gurley yet.

We now have an SEC West with four of the top five teams in college football. Obviously, that is unprecedented.

And two of the top three teams are from Mississippi.

What a season.

It seemed we were one of the few people to actually pick Georgia last week rather than following the herd and going with the “boutique pick” of Arkansas.

We were 5-1 for the week, making the record 55-5 for the season.

Here are the picks for Week 9:

Arkansas 42, UAB 22 — It’s a needed break from SEC play for the Razorbacks in front of what likely will be a lot of empty seats in Fayetteville on Saturday morning. The Blazers are decent at 4-3. Their wins have come by scores of 48-10 over Troy, 41-14 over Alabama A&M, 42-39 over Western Kentucky and 56-21 over North Texas. The losses have been by scores of 47-34 to Mississippi State (not bad at all), 34-20 to Florida International and 34-22 to Middle Tennessee.

Louisiana-Lafayette 35, Arkansas State 33 — We’re having to get the picks posted early this week because the Red Wolves have one of those strange Tuesday night games. I detest the thought of college football on a Tuesday, but you do what you have to do when you’re not in one of the Power Five conferences. Louisiana-Lafayette embarrassed ASU last year on a Tuesday night in Jonesboro by a score of 23-7. Louisiana-Lafayette is home this time for a game that will be seen nationally on ESPN 2. The Ragin’ Cajuns are 3-3 overall and 2-0 in the Sun Belt Conference. They have won four of the past six games in this series. This season’s wins have been by scores of 45-6 over Southern University, 34-31 over Georgia State and 34-10 over Texas State. The losses have come by scores of 48-20 to Louisiana Tech, 56-15 to Ole Miss and 34-9 to Boise State. ASU is 4-2 overall and also 2-0 in the Sun Belt Conference. In their last outing, the Red Wolves had a dominating 52-10 win at Georgia State. This should be a close game. We’ll give a slight edge to the Cajuns since they’re playing at home.

UCA 27, Northwestern State 24 — It was a disappointing trip to Hammond, La., for the Bears as they fell Saturday to Southeastern Louisiana, 41-24. Southeastern outrushed UCA 289-113. The Bears are 4-4 overall and 3-1 in the Southland Conference. They must beat Northwestern State of Louisiana in Conway on Saturday night to stay alive in the conference race. Northwestern is 4-3 overall and 2-1 in conference play. The Demons started the season with losses of 34-27 to Missouri State and 70-6 to Baylor. That was followed by victories of 51-27 over Southern University and 30-27 over Louisiana Tech. After a 30-22 loss to Southeastern Louisiana, the Demons have won two consecutive games, 49-12 over Incarnate Word and 31-27 over Sam Houston State. The two teams appear evenly matched. Again, we’ll give a slight edge to the home team.

Texas Southern 30, UAPB 20 — It’s shaping up to be a year to forget for the Golden Lions. UAPB is 1-5 overall and 0-4 in the SWAC after a 63-39 loss to Grambling on Saturday. Golden Lion quarterback Ben Anderson did have a good day statistically, passing for 467 yards. UAPB outgained Grambling, 570-503, but had three costly turnovers. Texas Southern is 5-2. The season started with victories of 37-35 over Prairie View A&M, 52-14 over Texas College, 30-16 over Central State and 45-23 over Alabama A&M. Losses of 38-3 to Alabama State and 40-25 to Alcorn State have since been sandwiched around a 20-16 victory over Mississippi Valley State. It’s the homecoming game in Houston this Saturday for Texas Southern.

Harding 31, Henderson 29 — It’s hard to pick against a team that has won 30 consecutive regular-season games — especially a team playing its homecoming game — but we’re going to go out on a limb and do it. Henderson has been less than impressive (by lofty Reddie standards) the past two weeks. The Reddies went to 7-0 on Saturday with a 24-3 victory at 3-4 Arkansas Tech. Henderson scored just three points in the second half. Reddie quarterback Kevin Rodgers was 21 of 36 passing for 325 yards, his 23rd game to pass for more than 300 yards. Darius Davis had touchdown receptions of 56, 68 and 58 yards in the first half. Henderson is No. 4 nationally in NCAA Division II. Its opponent, 5-1 Harding, is No. 23. This is a senior-laden Harding team that should be able to bounce back from Saturday night’s heartbreaking overtime loss to Ouachita in Searcy. It should be quite a game Saturday afternoon in Arkadelphia. Harding still has the top rushing attack in Division II and one of the top defenses against the run. The Bisons will try to control the clock with their run-based offense and limit the number of possessions for Rodgers, Davis & Co.

Ouachita 25, Arkansas Tech 13 — The 6-0 Tigers, now ranked 18th in Division II, must quickly come down off the high of Saturday night’s miracle victory in Searcy (a game that saw Ouachita score a touchdown on the final play of regulation and then convert a two-point conversion just to get the contest to overtime) and return to business against a Tech team that has a stingy defense. The Wonder Boy offense has struggled, however, meaning that points might be at a premium in Arkadelphia on Saturday afternoon unless Tiger quarterback Kiehl Frazier gets hot.

UAM 44, Southern Nazarene 18 — It has been a hard-luck season for the 1-5 Boll Weevils. Four of the five losses have been close — by four points to East Central Oklahoma, by three points to Southeastern Oklahoma, by six points to Northwestern Oklahoma and by five points to Arkansas Tech. The only team to blow the Weevils out was Harding, 55-15. UAM will have had two weeks to prepare for this week’s game against an 0-7 Southern Nazarene team that lost 62-7 to Southern Arkansas on Saturday. SAU outgained its opponent 605-88. UAM should be able to take out some frustration in Bethany, Okla.

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