University of Central Arkansas football Clint Conque began Monday a series of stump talks to promote the Bears’ home game Saturday night against Stephen F. Austin.
It will one of the biggest, if not the biggest, game played at First Security Field at Estes Stadium this season.
Both teams are 4-1, 1-0 in conference. Both won their conference openers, UCA a road victory at Northwestern State and SFA a home victory over McNeese State.
The Bears are ahead of all NCAA Football Championship Subdivision teams in scoring defense, yielding an average of 10 points per game. SFA is averaging 47.
A major concern for Conque and UCA officials is the regionally televised game occurs during fall break for UCA, so they know the student attendance will not be as high as usual.
Conque made his first appeal to the public to take up the slack at Monday’s Bearbackers luncheon.
"This is a match up two top 20 teams (UCA 8th, SFA 21st)," Conque said. "We are 28-3 at home the last five years. That is because of good play on the field but also a great environment and enthusiasm we have built here, including an active student body and raucous game atmosphere. I know that energizes our play.
"I would hope in a town of 60,000 that we could get 10,000 people in the stands to watch two nationally ranked teams play even if a lot of students are not here from their well-deserved break. I’m doing all I can to encourage our students to come back a day early."
UCA’s athletic officials have joined the effort with some special promotions. All game tickets for Saturday’s contest will be $5.
In addition to giving away T-shirts to the first 500 UCA students who are buying tickets, they are sponsoring a drawing in which one student who purchases a ticket will win free books for an entire semester.
"From what I’ve heard, that is getting some buzz in the Student Center today," said Matt Jordan, the Bears’ assistant athletic director in charge of marketing.
As far as on-the-field stuff, Conque described UCA’s 34-0 win over Northwestern State on Saturday in Natchitoches as the Bears’ most complete game of the season.
"Our assistant coaches had a great game plan and we saw in our players the passion and sense of urgency you look for," he said. "I’m pleased that we looked like a team that was ready to defend a title and justify a high ranking. Now it’s about consistency."
He described the Bears’ defensive effort, which limited the Demons to 196 total yards, as total domination. The Bears yielded one play of greater than 20 yards, "and on that one, Uriah Perry had a chance for a sack and a 7-yard loss and the quarterback broke the tackle," Conque said. The Demons averaged 2.9 yards per possession, passed for 81 yards and made only one trip into the red zone.
He said 40 percent of the yardage the UCA defense surrendered was on quarterback scrambles or runs, "which Hawaii also hurt us with and is something we’ll have to clean up," Conque said.
It was the first road shutout since UCA blanked Harding 28-0 in 1988.
The Bears’ 268 yards on the ground was the most rushing yards in Conque’s 10-year tenure.
"But what I was most proud of was zero sacks, zero negative plays, zero turnovers," Conque said. "You do that and play with passion and a sense of urgency and you have a chance to win most games," he said.
THE BREAK GAME: Brad Teague, UCA athletic director, said he consulted earlier in the year with the university’s scheduling committee after he noticed that a home football game occurred on fall break. "Because of midterms and we also have a game the next week, the fall break couldn’t be rescheduled," he said, "But they have assurred me that fall break will not again be scheduled on the week we have a home game."
THE NEW WEAPON: Jackie Hinton Jr., a redshirt freshman from the University of Houston, broke for a 48-yard touchdown on the Bears’ second play from scrimmage, his first carry as a UCA player.
Hinton, orginally from Shreveport who played high school ball at Channelview (a Houston suburb), started the last four games last season for the University of Houston and was listed as a starting free safety on the Cougars’ spring depth chart.
"He was academically eligible when he transferred here," Conque said. "There were some off-the-field issues at the University of Houston that I had to get my arms around and feel comfortable about. He did not practice, but he lifted weights and went through conditioning. Until I felt comfortable about everything, I did not want to put him on the field. It took me four games to get everything to where I felt comfortable. That was the right thing to do to protect the program."
Conque said Hinton came to UCA with the ability to play either offense or defense. "Our defensive coaches really wanted him, but the injury to Willie Landers (wide receiver) helped that decision. When he broke 48 yards the first time he touched the ball, our defensive coaches also kind of liked that."
PLAYERS OF THE GAME: Quarterback Robbie Park, who caught a 5-yard touchdown pass from Brent Grimes, and passed for two other touchdowns, was the coaches’ selection on offense. Defensive end Larry Hart, who had five tackles, including a sack and one for lost yardage, a forced fumble and an interception, earned defensive honors. Eddie Carmona, who kicked four extra points and two field goals, was the top special teams player. Linebacker Jacob Bane got the "Big Stick" citation while Dominique Allen of Houston (offense) and Jestin Love of West Memphis (defense) earned scout team honors.
IT FINALLY WORKED: Conque said the halfback pass from Grimes to Park was specially put in for the NSU game. "We ran it three times and practice and we didn’t come close to completing it," Conque said. "When I called the play, our coaches were shouting, ‘Are you sure?’ I told them the play was there, it was gonna be wide open and Brent’s a gamer, so he’ll get it there.’"
THE COVERUP: Conque said the use of managers to carry sheets to stretch out behind the assistants giving signals to block them from former assistant coach Todd Cooley (the NSU offensive coordinator who was in the press box behind the UCA bench) was primarily for the defensive coaches. "We had gone to wrist bands and had worked some different hand signals in on offense the last two weeks," Conque said. "I think coach (Hud) Jackson (who handles most of the offensive signals) just got a little wet and cold and needed the towels."
INJURIES: Defensive tackle returned to action and had six tackles. Conque said wide receiver T.J. Adams and Anthony Gambles could have played but were held out of the NSU game unless they were neeeded. Seth Allison, who has been a terror on special teams, injured an MCL and will likely be lost for about two weeks.
RAIN, RAIN: Conque said that, because of rainy conditions, the Bears have only practiced two consecutive days on their outdoor practice field one time since late August.