UCA Advance photo

The UCA Bears return home for just the second time this season to take on Missouri Western State for their annual homecoming game.

Another week, another game against an opponent that will be playing their first game against the Central Arkansas Bears.

UCA welcomes Division II Missouri Western State University to The Stripes for homecoming as well as UCA’s second home game in this odd season.

With Missouri Western playing its first game this season, there are challenges for the Bears.

“The challenge posed this week is that for the fourth time this year, we’re playing a team in their first game,” UCA coach Nathan Brown said. “That’s unheard of. That’s difficult. That’s something that is not normal.”

Brown said the challenge lies in prepping for a team that has no game film for this season, but has seven games worth of film for the Bears to study.

“When you’re playing a team that’s in their first game and they’ve had nothing but prep time for you, it makes for a difficult game plan,” he said. “We haven’t seen their personnel. We have not seen maybe what they have changed from this season to last season. All of our game film on them is from 2019. Whereas they have seven game tapes of 2020 on us. That’s difficult.

“We’ve dealt with that with Austin Peay, UAB and North Dakota State. That’s not something we’re not used to. That’s something that doesn’t make it any easier. That’s a neutralizing factor that’s part of the chess game as a coach in what you are about to face and what you are about to play.”

However, there is some familiarity with Missouri Western head coach Matt Williamson.

Williamson is in year three with the Griffons, taking over a program that went 4-7 the year prior to his arrival.

MWSU repeated that record in his inaugural year and then improved to 7-5 in 2018 and then went 9-3 in 2019.

Williamson’s name should be familiar with Bears fans as he served as defensive coordinator at UCA from 2010 to 2013 and then went to Stephen F. Austin with former Bears coach Clint Conque in 2014 and served as the defensive coordinator for three seasons at SFA.

“I know coach Williamson very well,” Brown said. “I’m very good friends with him. He coached at UCA as the defensive coordinator for four or five years and was an assistant coach and defensive line coach here for a couple more years. Then, he went to Stephen F. Austin with coach Conque, so I’ve coached against him in the Southland Conference. He’s a very respectable coach.”

Brown then acknowledged Williamson will have his players ready to fight for MIssouri Western, which is Williamson’s alma mater.

“He’s going to have his players ready to go,” he said. “He has a lot of enthusiasm. That’s his alma mater, so he has a lot of pride in that program. They’re coming off a nine-win season in MIAA, which is probably one of the toughest conferences in Division II. We know they are battle tested and we know what kind of kids they recruit.”

Recruiting-wise, Brown said the Griffons recruit out of the midwest, comparing the type of players they recruit to teams that UCA has played in the past.

“They have more of a midwestern recruiting footprint, so if you’re looking at our level of football, their recruiting is like Illinois State, maybe North Dakota State. That Missouri Valley Conference footprint, so they’re big, strong, tough kids. They also steal a couple out of other states to counter that with speed and athleticism as well. Coach Willy does a great job of recruiting and has put together a great staff.”

One student-athlete that Missouri Western has recruited should be familiar with Vilonia residents is freshman offensive lineman Nathan Schwulst, who attended Vilonia High School.

One area of possible concern for the Bears may be overlooking Saturday’s opponent because they play at a lower level than UCA.

After the Bears’ first game against Missouri State, Brown admitted his team may have overlooked Missouri State because it was a one-win football team the year prior.

So, Brown has implemented a strategy.

“One thing that has been my strategy has to not talk to our young guys about them being a Division II team,” he said. “We’re playing Missouri Western. We’re not playing a Division II football team. We’re playing a nine-win Missouri Western team that has their first opportunity in the 2020 season. The season for lack of a better term, maybe has lost its sexyness for us. We’ve played seven weeks. We’re in the grind. We’ve got injuries and bumps and bruises. For Missouri Western, this is game one and they are pumped up. They don’t have a lot of injuries, I would assume.

“They’re excited to be able to knock off a Division I program. There’s going to be a lot of adrenaline on their side of the ball.

“We’re going to have to counter that with execution and being excited about playing on The Stripes for homecoming. It’s a big week for us, especially coming after a tough loss. More than anything, we’re excited to be back home for our second home game of the year.”

Saturday’s game kicks off at 3 p.m. and will be broadcast on 94.1 FM as well as ESPN3.

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