Belief. Trust. Faith.
No matter what you call it, it’s a bond — largely unspoken and often forged through shared adversity — that sustains a group of people working together toward a common goal.
Arkansas Tech University’s football program will continue the process of building that bond in support of better days to come when the Wonder Boys host Southern Arkansas University in Great American Conference play on Saturday, Sept. 28.
Kickoff is planned for 6 p.m. at Thone Stadium at Buerkle Field. Game tickets ($10 adults/$5 students and senior citizens) will be available at the stadium ticket office on Saturday during Party at the Plaza, the pre-game tailgating celebration on the Crabaugh Hall lawn.
Those age 12 and under will receive free admission to the game in conjunction with a Kids Fest that will take place during Party at the Plaza, which will begin at 3 p.m. Arkansas Tech student-athletes will host youth-oriented activities and there will be inflatable bump-and-jump attractions as part of Kids Fest.
ATU students, faculty, staff and the immediate family of employees will also be admitted free of charge upon the presentation of a valid Arkansas Tech identification card.
“It starts in practice,” said Kyle Shipp, ATU head coach. “You will play like you practice, so if you decide to have a bad week of practice, don’t expect to play like an All-American on Saturday. We’ve had a really good week of practice this week. I think our guys are understanding how we have to practice, and that’s been a process from the spring to now. We’re getting better in that aspect, and we’re seeing evidence of that in the games. We haven’t gotten the outcome we want, but as long as we continue to work at that, all of the little things will add up and we’ll see the reward on the game field.”
Arkansas Tech (0-3) dropped a 27-21 decision at Henderson State University last Saturday. It was the second time during the first three weeks of the 2019 season the Wonder Boys nearly broke through with a win. They suffered a 26-23 overtime loss at the University of Arkansas-Monticello on Sept. 5.
“I was very happy with our ability to fight back in tough situations,” said Shipp while reflecting upon the Henderson State game. “There were times in the first half when we had opportunities to believe it was over. We gave ourselves a chance to win. Now we have to learn how to get over that hump and get a win.”
Southern Arkansas (2-1) will arrive in Russellville stinging from the end of its 17-game home winning streak. Harding University forced the Muleriders into four turnovers in a 31-0 Bisons’ victory at Wilkins Stadium in Magnolia last Saturday.
Many of the key figures in building that long string of SAU home wins completed their eligibility in 2018, including four-time All-GAC quarterback Barrett Renner. He established Mulerider career records for passing yardage (13,037 yards) and touchdown passes (118) from 2015-18.
SAU was 31-15 during Renner’s career. The Muleriders lost six 2018 All-GAC performers to graduation, including wide receiver and Harlon Hill Trophy finalist Ka’Ronce Higgins.
In the absence of Renner and Higgins, Southern Arkansas has focused more on its running game. Two Muleriders — freshman Kor’Davion Washington (72.7 yards per game) and senior SirCharles Perkins (64.7 yards per game) — rank among the top eight rushers in the GAC.
On the other side of the ball, Southern Arkansas ranks No. 2 in the league in total defense (273 yards allowed per game). Shipp said that SAU junior defensive lineman Antonio Washington stands out on film. His 4.5 tackles for a loss are tied for second-most in the GAC this season.
“(Washington) is a very explosive kid who makes a lot of plays,” said Shipp. “He’s a kid we’re really going to have to watch from a defensive line perspective. We have to keep bodies on bodies and keep them out of our backfield the best we can.”
Radio station KCJC 102.3 FM and www.arkansastechsports.com will provide live coverage of the ATU-SAU game.