Last week’s victory over Sam Houston State, last year’s national runner-up, set off a wild celebration for those involved with the University of Central Arkansas football program.
Two days later, talk of the triumph was discarded by the Bears’ coaching staff.
“It’s dumped in this building,” said UCA coach Clint Conque earlier in the week.
The reason is the Bears go on the road this week to face Stephen F. Austin in the Lumberjacks’ conference opener in Nacagdoches, Texas. It’s a team that Conque hs termed possibly the best 1-3 team in NCAA Division I FCS, a team that has been or has been close to the top 25 rankings. The Lumberjacks have played a brutal non-conference schedule that has included NCAA FBS teams SMU and Texas State and Montana State, one of the top-ranked teams this year in FCS in which they played within a touchdown.
“The question now is what will this young team do to handle this success? How will these players handle things after being patted on the back the week before?” Conque said. “This is the conference opener for SFA and a chance for them to make a statement. They don’t care who you played and beat the week before.
“We have to play just as fast, just as physical and with just as much intensity as last week.”
He described the Lumberjacks, who play with a wide-open style, as a powerful scoring machine that has added a run threat to a passing game that has been one of the most prolific in the nation the last five years.
“They new met a pass or vertical they didn’t like,” Conque said. “If we don’t bring our A game, we could be embarrassed.”
Adding the challenge is Jestin Love, one of the Bears’ top safeties, is serving a first-half suspension by the SLC for what was rule a targeted hit to the head and shoulders in the Sam Houston game.
“What I see in UCA is a team that is playing fast with a lot of confidence in what they’re doing,” said SFA coach J.C. Harper, who is in his fifth season as head coach of the Lumberjacks. “What jumps at you is for the fourth week in a row, they have had an SLC Player of the Week.”
During his time as a head coach or assistant at SFA, Harper has seen several good UCA quarterbacks and a posse of receivers. He ranks the Bears’ Wynrick Smothers with the best.
“He (Smothers) has more capability to beat you running the football than some quarterbacks we’ve had there; that makes it all the more difficult,” Harper said. “Their receivers seem really, really fast and there seems to more of them. Everybody has a couple of good receivers. UCA seems to have a lot who are really good.”
SFA is the SLC’s winningest team over the last three seasons (25-11) and return most of the team that won its last five games last year to finish 6-5.