Arkansas Tech has sought improvement in the areas of turnover margin and pass defense throughout the 2011 season. On Saturday, the Wonder Boys will meet a good measure of how far they have come in both of those areas. East Central University (5-3 overall, 3-2 Great American Conference) will visit Arkansas Tech (2-6, 1-2) for a 2 p.m. GAC contest at Thone Stadium at Buerkle Field in Russellville on Saturday, Oct. 29. Party at the Plaza, the pre-game tailgating celebration outside the stadium on Centennial Plaza, will begin at noon. Game tickets will be available at the stadium ticket office.
Those with a valid Arkansas Tech identification card will be admitted free. The Wonder Boys are coming off a 28-16 Homecoming win over Southeastern Oklahoma State last Saturday. The outcome stopped a five-game losing streak for Arkansas Tech.
Head coach Steve Mullins characterized the feeling amongst the team following the victory as more relief than joy. “Any time you have a losing streak there are certain internal pressures that build, and to be able to let them out a little bit helps with everyone’s state of mind,” said Mullins. “Hopefully that’s been beneficial as we get ready for East Central and our last home game of the season.”
East Central has forced a GAC-best 22 turnovers this season, and the Tigers rank second in the GAC in turnover margin (+5).
ECU creates many of its turnovers by pressuring the opposing quarterback with defensive ends Armonty Bryant and Jason Catchings. Bryant ranks tied for third in the GAC in tackles for a loss (11.0), while Catchings is tied for the league lead in quarterback sacks (6.5).
“They are truly special,” said Mullins when asked about Bryant and Catchings. “I’m afraid their names will be called quite a few times this Saturday afternoon. They’ve wreaked havoc on everyone they’ve played against. They are extremely fast and quick with great height, and they create a lot of opportunities for the East Central offense to have extra possessions.”
When the Tigers get those extra possessions, they put the football in the hands of quarterback Tyler Vanderzee --- the 2010 Lone Star Conference North Division offensive player of the year.
This season, Vanderzee ranks second in the GAC in passing offense (284.4 yards per game) and first in the conference in touchdown passes (19).
“I think everybody knows that defending the pass has been a weakness for us this year,” said Mullins. “East Central is going to line up with two tight ends and run the football, but then they’re going to run play-action and try to catch you napping with a big pass play. (Vanderzee) is very poised and experienced, and four of their five offensive linemen are seniors.”
Arkansas Tech will honor its 19 senior football players --- defensive linemen Hayward Howard, Kelby Parks, Garret Ratcliff, A.J. Smith and Marvin Wilcots; linebacker Brandon Keaton; defensive backs Joe Bryant, Myron Johnson, Joe Means and Kenneth Snell; place kicker Jorge Vazquez; offensive linemen Brandon Thomas and Marcus Turner; quarterback James Landry; running back Darnell O’Neal; tight end Josh Baker; tight end/punter Jake Denzer; and wide receivers Sean Carraway and A.J. Whitmore --- during a pre-game ceremony on Saturday.
“As we talk about being links to the program and links to the university, we always stress the things that will take place some 20 years down the line,” said Mullins. “Long after we are all gone, I hope that the program will benefit from the passion, desire and love for the program and the university that is created among these young men during their playing careers.
“We can’t always go out winners the way we want to, but we can always go out with character and the knowledge that we did our very best,” continued Mullins. “That’s what we stress every day because life is going to have ups and downs just like athletics. The ability to adapt, not give up and see the light at the end of the tunnel is important.” Radio station KWKK 100.9 FM will have the broadcast of the ECU-Tech game.
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After hosting East Central for its final home game, Arkansas Tech will conclude the 2011 football season with a 2 p.m. GAC contest against Southwestern Oklahoma State on Saturday, Nov. 5, in Weatherford, Okla.
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