Lamar coach Ray Woodard has seen team “circle the wagons” before.

He’s expecting quite an intense attack by the Bears for the Cardinals’ homecoming game Saturday night.

In resuming Southland Conference play, UCA will be playing its first game without senior quarterback Wynrick Smothers, who sustained a season-ending ankle injury Saturday against Nebraska-Kearney. UCA coach Clint Conque has challenged his team to “circle the wagons” and press on toward a conference championship.

“It has been my experience when a team gets an injury like that, they get great performances in other areas because the other guys are ready to play for the injured player,” Woodard said. “It causes a team to rally around a cause. That’s what we expect.
Redshirt junior Ryan Howard and sophomore transfer Taylor Reed will share most of the quarterbacking duties with converted wide receiver Jacoby Walker worked into some packages. Howard, 5-foot-11, 194, played in two games in 2011 and four games last year, all in limited, spot duty. Reed, 6-3, 215, started nine games for the University of Memphis in 2011 before transferring to Arkansas and later to UCA.

“This could be something that really bonds us or go the other direction,” said UCA coach Clint Conque. “That’s the challenge. But coach (quarterback coach Nathan) Brown will have them ready. They are playing for a cause.”

The Bears will receive a boost with the return of linebacker Justin Heard, who had served a three-game disciplinary suspension.

The Bears will likely need the help. Lamar, in its fourth season since it revived its program, narrowly lost to SLC favorite Sam Houston State last week, 14-3 at Huntsville.

“They did an unbelievable fabulous job against Sam Houston on the road,” Conque said. “They are athletic and senior-laden on defense and physical.”

The Cardinals leads the SLC in defense.

“They (the Cardinals) play with great leverage and they tackle very well,” said Sam Houston State coach Willie Fritz. ‘No matter what the scheme, when you do those two things well, you’ll play good defense.”

Lamar is playing with its first senior class since the program’s revival.

“We have good leadership and it trickles down to the rest of the team,” Woodard said. “We go to those seniors, present the week’s challenges and they understand it and have a sense of urgency. We’ve closed the gap and have learned how to compete in this league.”