After three rugged weeks on plain ole turf, the University of Central Arkansas Bears are happy to return to stripes Saturday night.
They are even happier to welcome back two major cogs in their lineup, quarterback Nathan Dick, who has been cleared to play after missing last week due to the effects of a concussion and linebacker Frank Newsome, who is recovering from an ankle injury.
The challenge is Saturday night’s opponent is Stephen F. Austin, the two-time defending Southland Conference champions.
UCA hasn’t play at home since Sept. 1 and will be playing the first Saturday game of the season at First Security Field at Estes Stadium.
It’s a pivotal game for both the Bears and the Lumberjacks as each enters the game at 1-3, 1-0 in conference.
This begins six straight weeks of conference play for UCA, seven overall. The Bears need six victories against NCAA Division I teams to qualify for the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision postseason if they do not with the SLC title, which carries an automatic bid.
"If we are gonna be relevant in the conference race, this is the week we’ve got to play 60 minutes in all phases," UCA coach Clint Conque said.
On the SLC weekly teleconference, J.C. Harper, SFA’s coach, sounded more like his Lumberjacks were playing a 4-0 or 3-1 team instead of 1-3.
"Central Arkansas has a good offense with fast receivers," he said. "Their offensive line is physical and big. Wynrick Smothers is a good quarterback who can throw and run and they may have Nathan Dick available, who was a first-team, all-conference selection. Their running backs are fast. Their defense is good and always seems to be in the right spot. The really move to the football and tackle very well. Their special teams are sound. Everything they do is great."
SFA is 15-9 in SLC road openers.
"Central Arkansas has had a very tough schedule this season," Harper said. "They will be fired up to be back in front of their fans again. The game will come down to which players make plays, and which team executes."
The Bears have four players who have caught at least 10 passes.
"Even against SFA, a team that throws 85 percent of the time, we’ve got to stop the run," Conque said.