After a strange high-highs, here is another batch of “David’s Appetizers,” assorted mustings and observations on the sports scene:
The bizarre roller-coaster ride began early last week when the University of Central Arkansas defeated the University of Alabama, the second straight team from an NCAA major conference that has gone down at the hands of the Sugar Bears.
Days later, a single-engine aircraft crashes in a remote area of Perry County, killing the Oklahoma State women’s basketball coach and his assistant.
Then, an incredible series of football upsets: Iowa State over Oklahoma State, USC over Oregon and Baylor over Oklahoma parted the waters almost miraculously to probably allow the Arkansas Razorbacks to move into the BCS title game if they defeat LSU. The next morning, a Razorback football player (Garrett Uekman) is found dead in his room just an hour after a witness saw him playing video games, seemingly in good shape and spirits.
That same morning, the University of Central Arkansas gained its first appearance in the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision playoff
Within days, we saw how delicate the tightrope can be between great job and unimaginable sorrow.
The shocking tremors of that tragedy extend into Faulkner County.
Uekman, then a sophomore, scored the go-ahead basket with 38 seconds left for Little Rock Catholic in its 46-44 victory over Conway in the 2008 Class 7A state boys championship basketball game.
When UCA place-kicker Eddie Carmara was at the University of Arkansas, Uekman was his roommate.
When Clint Conque’s son, Zach, enrolled at Little Rock Catholic, the two families had a carpool arrangement for two years with the Uekman family that lived in the Marche community near Morgan.
“We would take Zach to the Shell station at Morgan and Garrett’s family would pick him up and take him to school,” coach Conque said. “Then, we would pick him up at the same place and that kept us from driving back-and-forth into Little Rock every day.
“We had a close relationship with the Uekman family; I recruited him. He was a great kid, such an infectious personality, well-liked. We’re preparing for the (NCAA FCS) playoffs, but I have a heavy heart. I’ve always said that handling this kind of thing is one of the more difficult things to deal with as a coach at any level.”
The Uekman tragedy may put a damper on some of it, but the excitement this week for the Razorbacks’ game against No. 1 LSU should rival and might surpass that for the 1969 “Big Shootout” game against the University of Texas that decided a national championship.
And in methodically taking apart Mississippi State on Saturday, this Razorback team played one of the best and most complete games in every phase this reporter has seen in years. It was a performance of a team that is a legitimate national title contender.
And the Hogs are a matchup problem for LSU’s defense because they can pick their spots with Dennis Johnson and with their dynamic receivers, particularly now that tight end Chris Gragg has emerged as a bigtime problem for a linebacker.
The stars, both figuratively and with standout players, have lined up for the Razorbacks.
I’m not sure there’s a formula or computer program that is set up to handle what has now happened in college football. The top three teams in the country are not only from the same conference but the same six-team division in that conference — LSU, Alabama and Arkansas.
And incredibly, within a couple of days, the door cracked for both Arkansas to have a shot at the national championship or for Baylor’s Robert Griffin to win the Heisman Trophy.
Last weekend in college football, where people were drawn to their television screens, screaming and hollering for teams they never thought they would scream and holler so much for, was as exciting as a regular season can get. Playoff games will not produce any more excitement.
It was like the first weekend of the NCAA basketball tournament when one buzzer-beating, Cinderella effort often follows another.
The Sugar Bears were eliminated by Texas State in the Southland Conference semifinals in about as exciting of five-set match that college volleyball can offer.
It had to be the most captivating and exciting match ever played in Conway.
Neither team had more than an eyelash advantage in the match that went on for more that 2 1/2 hours. Every hit, every touch meant something. The match turned several times on just some many little things or so many great efforts by players on both sides.
When two evenly matched and good teams play, volleyball can get really exciting because match-changing stuff happens in an instant.
Glance away for a second and you might miss something amazing and pivotal.
With a nice crowd of fans at the Farris Center, it was a good marketing tool for volleyball.
It was the first Southland Conference championship event that UCA has hosted and Brad Teague, UCA athletic director, said he and his staff and community volunteeers received high praise both for management and hospitality.
“It was fun for the conference to see us do something in that light,” Teague said. “It gave people a chance to see what we can put on in Conway and show folks our community and how we can embrace things like this and how our institution and the Conway community work so well together.”
UCA will also host the tournament next year.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org)