Even though the University of Central Arkansas and Lamar University have never played in football, there are some threads connecting the Bears to the Cardinals.

After establishing UCA as an NAIA power, former Bear coach Ken Stephens left to take over the Lamar football program in for the 1982 season and coached there until 1985. Current UCA coach Clint Conque was an assistant on the McNeese State staff in the last game the Cardinals played (in 1989) before the program was dropped in 1990 because of financial problems.

Lamar, situated in the midst of one of the traditional football-rich areas in Texas, revived its program two years ago in a big way. 

And it’s a totally different situation from where the program was in the 1980s and 1990s. School officials have pumped more than $15 million into revitalizing the program and have gained more community support than ever with active tailgating. The old Cardinal Stadium was razed and 15,000-seat new Provost Umphrey Stadium, one of the finest in the conference, has taken its place.

Saturday, Lamar, in its first official year in the Southland Conference, celebrates its most meaningful homecoming in years at Beaumont, Texas.

“Coach Conque, if you’re listening, I wasn’t responsible for scheduling you for homecoming,” Lamar coach Ray Woodard said. “That was somebody else.”

Conque is more concerned with how Woodard has constructed the revitalized program.

“They have athletes all over the field and their defensive linemen are as long as any I’ve seen, particularly at defensive end,” Conque said. “Their linebackers are good and their secondary always seems to be in the right place and are sure tacklers. They have a lot of speed on offense, particularly at quarterback and wide receiver. They have an explosive offense.”

About 17 of Lamar’s starters are transfers, some from Division I programs.

One of the transfers is former University of Arkansas offensive lineman Anthony Oden.

It’s a crucial SLC game because the Bears, and the Cardinals are two of four one-loss teams in the SLC. 

“Central Arkansas has a very explosive offense but they don’t have to score much because their defense doesn’t give up much,” Woodard said. “They are not an offensive team or a defensive team. They are just a very good, solid football team.”

“Pretty good teams find ways to win and we’ve found ways,” said Conque, whose team has won three straight after starting 1-3. “We’ve scored on offense, defense and special teams. All programs worked on that. Of late, we’ve been fortunate to make some plays the last couple of weeks. We weren’t able to earlier because we were in position to make those plays and we didn’t have some of the athletes on the field to make them.”

“Central Arkansas scheme is similar to some we’ve seen but the difference is the athletes executing it,” Woodard said. “I’m more concerned about the athletes than the scheme.”

The game is the second straight UCA game on the SLC TV Network (Conway Corp. channel 9).

UCA (4-3, 3-1) at Lamar (3-3, 1-1)

Time: 3 p.m.

Place: Provost Umphrey Stadium, Beaumont, Texas

Coaches: Clint Conque, UCA, 12th season, 80-50. Ray Woodard, Lamar, 2nd full season, 8-9.

Series: First meeting

TV; Southland Conference Network (Channel 9, Conway cable)

Radio: UCA Sports Network that includes KUCA (91.3 FM) and 106.7 (The Heartbeat).

Notable: Second straight TV game for the Bears, who play three in the next four weeks ... Lamar is 20-19-1 all time in homecoming games but was 1-9 from 1981-89, after which the program was dropped ... The Cardinals are coming off a 46-21 loss to Texas State.