A lot of stuff is going on at the University of Central Arkansas this week during homecoming week.
And there could be some big stuff going on after Saturday night’s game against Northwestern State.
If the Bears win, they will clinch the outright Southland Conference championship and secure an automatic berth in the NCAA FCS playoffs. A trophy presentation is likely at First Security Field at Estes Stadium.
For that to happen, the Bears (6-2, 5-1 in the SLC going into the conference finale) must defeat Northwestern State, a team that defeated them at home two years ago.
“We’re trying to keep our players insulated from all that,” UCA coach Clint Conque said during Monday’s weekly Bearbacker luncheon. “We’ve got to stay focused. We’ve got to show maturity in our preparation and respect for the process.”
For the fans, it’s a different story as Conque began his campaign for a sellout crowd.
“A trophy will be in the stadium — those are hard to get in Division I,” Conque said. “If people can’t get excited about this football game, I don’t know if we can improve on the situation in the stadium.”
The Bears set things up with a 31-14 victory over Southeastern Louisiana, the only unbeaten team remaining in the SLC, at Hammond. Every other conference team has one conference game remaining as UCA’s bye week is the last playing date of the conference season. At 6-1, UCA would have the tiebreaker over both the other current one-loss teams, Sam Houston State and Southeastern.
“At this stage of the season, situations are important, such as success in the red zone, turnover margin, third-down conversion and special teams,” Conque said. “You have to win those situations in games like we played Saturday and that’s exactly what happened.
“Coming off a bye week and on their homecoming, Southeastern was kind of lying in wait for us. Our football team responded by taking over the game early. You know the home team is going to make a run and they (the Lions) geared it up a notch in the third quarter and hit us a little bit in the face (drawing within 21-14). But we’ve got a pretty good football team, too, and we were able to stem the tide.”
He praised wide receiver Jesse Grandy for his two touchdown passes totaling 108 yards, quarterback Wynrick Smothers for his leadership and making plays with his feet and wide receiver Dezmin Lewis, who “made some key acrobatic catches and some tough physical runs on some hitch screens.”
Conque continued, “I’m very happy with our young offensive linemen. We allowed only one sack and that was a coverage sack. We had 100 yards rushing before we took a knee. That doesn’t seem like much, but in our style of offense, it is presentable. We have to present some kind of effective run game. On defense, we were more aggressive and that was important after last week (against Lamar).”
UCA’s homecoming game will be a 7 p.m. Saturday.