Following its second loss in a row, the 5-4, 4-3 in the Southland Conference University of Central Arkansas Bears face another tough challenge in out of nowhere University of the Incaranate Word at home.
The losses the Bears have accrued over time has caused them to drop out of the top 25 Football Championship Subdivision polls.
This week doesn’t get much easier as it faces 5-4, 5-2 in the SLC UIW comes to town for senior day and the final home game of the season.
The Cardinals’ strong play has them in the conversation of possibly winning the SLC and making it into the FCS Playoffs, which was unheard of before this season.
Last season, UIW finished last season with one win, which came against Lamar in a 33-24 win.
Following last season’s 1-10 finish, former coach Larry Kennan and hired coach Eric Morris in December.
Prior to this year, UIW has pretty much been an afterthought, an easy game in the schedule.
However, this season, the team is playing good football, losing just two SLC games and even blowing out then nationally No. 6 McNeese State 45-17 at home and then, beating then No. 21 Sam Houston State 43-26 last week.
This isn’t a team to be taken lightly and Bears coach Nathan Brown knows that.
“They’re good,” he said. “They’re a great program. Don’t get it twisted that they’re the Incarnate Word of past years. No knock on those teams, but they are playing at a high level and playing with a lot of confidence. They’ve got a new coaching staff in there and coach Morris is doing a good job bringing the Texas Tech style to that offense. If you look at the roster, they have 16 seniors in their starting two-deep. When you have that many seniors in your starting two-deep, you should have a pretty good year.”
On offense, the Cardinals have the second highest scoring offense in the SLC, scoring 33.7 points per game, while boasting the league’s top running back in senior Ra’Quanne Dickens.
Dickens is leading the conference in rushing with 814 total yards rushing, while scoring. League leading 11 touchdowns.
They are also getting strong play from their quarterback position.
“They’re playing a true freshman, who is a winner Jon Copeland,” Brown said. “He’s turned the ball over a little bit, but he gets the ball up and down the field. He’s a guy they’re going to let loose and throw the football on you. They also have a really good running back as well. We’ve got to be on point. Defensively, we’ve gotta play well.”
Brown said the offense has to be better when the defense hands it the ball.
“Offensively, we need to be opportunistic and take advantage of some moments,” he said. “We need to turn the ball over on defense and score off those turnovers. That’s what we’ve been unable to do that last two weeks.”
As for the Cardinals’ defense, they will try to utilize senior defensive lineman Justin Alexandre, who is third in the conference in total sacks with 10.
“They’ve got a defensive end that has 10 sacks,” Brown said. “He’s one of the best in the league. They have tall corners and play aggressively on defense.”
Saturday’s game could be the final game on The Stripes for several Bears, which Brown said is the smallest class since he was a senior at UCA in 2008.
“We had 12 my senior year and this year, there is 14,” he said. “This is a small senior class. These are a really good group of guys that have invested a lot in this program and their younger teammates. They all deserve to end in a good way the last two weeks of the season.”
The game has an early start, kicking off at 3 p.m. Saturday at Estes Stadium.
The game will be broadcast on the UCA Radio Network at 91.3 FM and 94.1 FM as well as on ESPN+.