Non-Conference Tests Continue at No. 19 UCM

Scheduling circumstances beyond their control are forcing the Arkansas Tech Wonder Boys to play one of their most challenging four-game stretches in recent memory, but head coach Steve Mullins is pleased with the attitude of his football team through adversity. 

Arkansas Tech (1-3) will face the nationally 19th-ranked Central Missouri Mules (3-1) at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 1, in non-conference football action at Walton Stadium in Warrensburg, Mo. The game can be heard in the Arkansas River Valley on KWKK 100.9 FM.

Click here to listen to an Internet stream of the broadcast.

“The leadership of our seniors has been outstanding,” said Mullins. “I started talking to this group back in November from the standpoint of this being a transition year for football. There was nothing that we could control or do about it, but we talked about the idea that this could be a special group that could lead to great things.

“As this group went into their senior year, they knew that the schedule was going to be beyond bizarre,” continued Mullins. “They knew that the opportunity to go to the NCAA Division II Playoffs was not really there because of the nature of our schedule. But I’ve been very pleased with the leadership and attitude of our seniors. We’re going to fight through all of these non-conference games and things will get settled down during the back half of our schedule.”

Central Missouri was not part of the first draft of Arkansas Tech’s 2011 schedule, but when Gulf South Conference member Lambuth University closed its doors on June 30 the Wonder Boys found themselves with an unexpected open date on Oct. 1.

Arkansas Tech had been scheduled to play against Lambuth as part of its exit agreement from the GSC as it moved forward to the new NCAA Division II Great American Conference.

A similar scheduling problem befell Central Missouri when its Oct. 1 opponent — the University of Nebraska at Omaha — decided to discontinue its football program. Central Missouri and Arkansas Tech were able to fill their common open date with each other, but Mullins admits the timing of facing such an opponent could be better.

“It was a challenge because we did not find out about Lambuth until late last year,” said Mullins. “As you look at a string of already having Delta State, West Alabama and North Alabama on the schedule, you don’t want to add another nationally-ranked team to that mix and face opponents of that caliber uninterrupted for an entire month. But we didn’t really have any choice.”

The Mules are the second of three NCAA Division II Playoffs teams from a year ago that Arkansas Tech will face during a four-week stretch. The Wonder Boys took on defending NCAA Division II national runner-up Delta State on Sept. 17 and they will host nationally second-ranked North Alabama on Oct. 8.

Central Missouri returns 18 starters and 57 lettermen from a team that was 11-3 overall and reached the quarterfinal round of the 2010 NCAA Division II Playoffs.

Quarterback Eric Czerniewski led the Mules to their first postseason berth in eight years by passing for an NCAA Division II-record 5,207 yards last season.

Czerniewski has exhausted his eligibility, but his understudy — Tommy Corwin — has picked up where he left off. Corwin leads the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association in passing at 329 yards per game. He completed 32-of-41 passes for 360 yards and four touchdowns in a 54-30 Mules’ win over Truman State last Saturday.

“We don’t have to play perfect (against Central Missouri), but we’re going to have to play the best game we’ve played so far this year,” said Mullins. “I’m always an optimist. I have confidence, faith and hope. I look at the mistakes we make, and most of them are correctable. We just have to eliminate mental mistakes, play aggressive and take advantage when we get opportunities.”

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