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No. 10 Statesmen Visit Arkansas Tech Saturday

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With 17 returning starters from a team that won the 2010 Gulf South Conference football championship and finished as NCAA Division II national runner-up, the Delta State Statesmen have all the ingredients to put together a memorable season in 2011. The nationally 10th-ranked Statesmen (2-1) will visit the Arkansas Tech Wonder Boys (1-1) for a 6 p.m. non-conference contest at Thone Stadium at Buerkle Field in Russellville on Saturday, Sept. 17.

Party at the Plaza, the pre-game tailgating celebration outside Thone Stadium at Buerkle Field, will begin at 4 p.m. Saturday. Game tickets will be available at the gate. Those bearing a valid Arkansas Tech identification card will be admitted free.

Radio station KWKK 100.9 FM will have the broadcast in the Arkansas River Valley.

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The game will mark the 2011 home opener for the Wonder Boys, who dropped a 38-31 decision at Arkansas-Monticello and defeated Southwest Baptist 31-20 in Bolivar, Mo., during the first two weeks of the season.

Arkansas Tech head coach Steve Mullins knows that his team must demonstrate poise and maturity this Saturday in order to compete with one of the most talented D-II teams in the country. “Delta State has done a great job recruiting in the Mississippi junior colleges and the California junior colleges,” said Mullins. “They deserve all of the accolades they have received. They play with confidence and aggressiveness. It is beyond important for us to win the mental game. Our guys have to keep their composure and play within themselves.” The Statesmen are led by senior quarterback Micah Davis, who passed for 4,097 yards and 33 touchdowns while guiding DSU to an 11-4 record a year ago.

Davis and the Statesmen fell just short of the ultimate prize when a final-second field goal by Minnesota-Duluth gave the Bulldogs a 20-17 victory over Delta State in the 2010 NCAA Division II national championship game. “You can see that he is a confident football player,” said Mullins when asked about Davis. “He knows where to go with the football every time it is snapped. He does a wonderful job with his pre-snap reads and with getting the football out of his hands.” Arkansas Tech will counter with a defense that forced five turnovers in the Wonder Boys’ victory at Southwest Baptist last Saturday. “It was very pleasing to see the improvement that our defense made from game one to game two,” said Mullins. “The big thing to me is just the confidence factor. We have 10 new starters on defense this year, so they’ve got to come together and have faith that all 11 people are working together like a puzzle. Hopefully the pieces will fit again this week.” One of the Statesmen’s most important pieces is sophomore linebacker Ixavier Triplett. The 2010 GSC defensive freshman of the year, Triplett already has 6.5 tackles for a loss this season. He leads Delta State with 20 tackles in 2011. “When they blitz him, he usually makes good things happen for them,” said Mullins when asked about Triplett. “The thing that stands out about him is that he is an instinctive player. He’s just as dangerous when they don’t blitz him because of his ability to run people down from behind and the good decisions he makes throughout the course of a game.” Big plays were the fuel for the Arkansas Tech offense last Saturday. The Wonder Boys scored on passing plays of 10, 33, 44 and 64 yards as true freshman quarterback Preston Conder became the first Tech player since Nick Graziano on Nov. 14, 2009, to throw four or more touchdown passes in a game. Those big plays helped the Wonder Boys build a 31-7 lead early in the third quarter, but Tech’s offense was limited to four first downs and 102 total yards over the final 26 minutes of the game. “Our youth and our decision making have made it difficult for us to be consistent offensively,” said Mullins. “Unfortunately, Delta State’s defense also tends to stop consistency. What we must do is be patient and take what they give us. We have to chip away and maintain the football.”

Saturday marks the first of two consecutive home games for the Wonder Boys. Arkansas Tech will host West Alabama for a non-conference tilt at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 24.