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Wonder Boys, Bisons Set for Key GAC Clash

It has been a long road back to play in a game as meaningful as the one the Arkansas Tech Wonder Boys will participate in this Saturday. 

It has been a long road back to play in a game as meaningful as the one the Arkansas Tech Wonder Boys will participate in this Saturday.  
  
Arkansas Tech (5-3 overall, 3-2 Great American Conference) and the nationally 19th-ranked Harding University Bisons (6-1, 4-1) will meet at 2 p.m. Saturday at First Security Stadium in Searcy.

Radio station KWKK 100.9 FM will have the broadcast, which will also be available online at http://athletics.atu.edu/tech-audio-streaming.php.

Late-season showdowns with conference title and postseason implications were regular events for the Arkansas Tech football program during the decade from 1999-2009. The Wonder Boys made three NCAA Division II Playoffs appearances during that time frame, including a 9-3 season and a berth in the second round of the postseason in 2009.

But then came back-to-back losing seasons, and a 1-3 start in 2012.

Since then, the Wonder Boys have registered four consecutive victories to give themselves a chance at a winning season and a high finish in the conference race.

“It’s very gratifying to be in this position,” said Arkansas Tech head coach Steve Mullins. “It would have been easy to write us off after the way our season started, but I’m proud of the ability our coaches and players have shown to keep fighting and believing in each other. The character make-up of this team is extremely good. We know we have a great challenge in front of us. To make yourself a championship-caliber team, you need to win a game like the one we are about to play. It’s fun to be relevant and to be playing for something.”

For the Bisons, a win on Saturday would allow them to maintain pressure on front-running Henderson State (8-0, 6-0) in the GAC standings.

A victory would also keep Harding on track for its first-ever berth in the NCAA Division II Playoffs. The Bisons are ranked No. 3 in this week’s NCAA Division II Super Region 3 rankings. Six teams from Super Region 3 will advance to the postseason.

There are two major reasons why Harding is in position to be among those six teams --- the Bisons run the football, and they stop the run.

Harding ranks seventh in NCAA Division II in rushing offense (288.7 yards per game) and sixth in NCAA Division II in rushing defense (84.0 yards allowed per game).
 
In an era when the majority of college football programs are utilizing some form of the spread offense, the Bisons employ an old-fashioned, triple option attack.
 
“Harding makes you play strict assignment football defensively,” said Mullins. “Many teams still utilize the option out of the spread, but you just don’t see the kind of quick and hard inside physical running threat that exists in the triple option. Defenders have to make quick decisions and get to their spots against Harding’s triple. Hopefully our defensive guys understand the tempo of the game, because it’s going to be fast and we will be facing an offense with lots of moving parts.”
 
Arkansas Tech ranks third in the GAC in passing offense (266.3 yards per game), and Tech quarterback Tanner Marsh is 15th in NCAA Division II in total offense (311.1 yards per game).
 
Marsh has accounted for 19 of the Wonder Boys’ 29 offensive touchdowns this season. He has thrown 12 touchdown passes, had six touchdown runs and caught one touchdown pass.
 
Arkansas Tech’s passing game will be tested the next two weeks by two of the top pass rushes in the GAC. Harding and the Wonder Boys’ opponent on Nov. 3 --- East Central University --- both have 20 or more quarterback sacks this season.
 
“Beginning with our practice on Sunday, we have really focused on the pure technique of pass blocking for our offensive line this week,” said Mullins. “Harding can create pressure with a four-man front, which makes your secondary that much better when you can drop seven into coverage. They want to get you in a position where you have to throw the football, and then they have a couple of defensive ends and a defensive tackle who can create havoc on every snap.”
 
Saturday will mark the 50th all-time football meeting between Arkansas Tech and Harding. The Wonder Boys hold a 30-19 edge in the series, which dates back to 1928.

Learn more about Arkansas Tech football.

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