Wonder Boys Host No. 10 VSU Saturday

Arkansas Tech has finished with an overall football record of .500 or better in six consecutive seasons.

It is tied for the third-longest such streak in the 96-year history of Tech football. It is the longest such streak for the Wonder Boys since 1967-72, and it is a period that will be remembered as one of the program’s golden ages. Arkansas Tech made two trips to the second round of the NCAA Division II Playoffs (2004 and 2009) and won a total of 43 games during its current string of six consecutive seasons at .500 or better from 2004-09.

But if the streak is to continue for a seventh straight year, the 2010 Wonder Boys must finish with a flourish. Arkansas Tech (3-5 overall, 2-4 Gulf South Conference) will host nationally 10th-ranked Valdosta State (6-1, 4-1) for a 2 p.m. contest at Thone Stadium at Buerkle Field on Saturday, Oct. 30. Party at the Plaza, Tech’s pre-game tailgating celebration outside the stadium on Centennial Plaza, will begin at noon. Tickets will be available at the Thone Stadium at Buerkle Field ticket office. Children age 12 and under dressed in their Halloween costumes will be admitted free.

Click here to access a video stream of the game. Click here to access an audio stream of the game. Click here to access live statistics. The Wonder Boys have three games remaining on their 2010 schedule — home against Valdosta State this Saturday, at Harding on Nov. 6 and home for a non-conference date with Southwest Baptist on Nov. 13. Arkansas Tech must win all three to finish with a winning record, and head coach Steve Mullins knows the formula his team must follow to get it done. “This is a great opportunity for our seniors to step forward and put their stamp on the program,” said Mullins. “It’s been many years since we’ve had a losing season and we have some challenges ahead of us, but if we protect the football there’s no reason we can’t win these games.” Through eight contests, turnovers have been the story for the Wonder Boys. Arkansas Tech has given the football away a GSC-worst 32 times in 2010. The Wonder Boys committed five turnovers in a 49-26 loss at West Alabama last Saturday. Two of the turnovers were returned by the Tigers for touchdowns; another was returned to the Tech 3-yard line and resulted in a UWA touchdown on the next play. That was enough to wipe out what was otherwise the best performance by the Wonder Boys’ offense this season. Arkansas Tech amassed a season-high 442 yards of total offense, was 9-of-17 on third down conversions and held the football for 39 minutes and 55 seconds. The yards figure to be harder to come by this Saturday against Valdosta State. The Blazers rank third in the GSC in total defense (309 yards allowed per game) behind the leading tackler in the conference — senior linebacker Larry Dean. “(Dean) is a remarkable player,” said Mullins. “Valdosta’s defensive line does a great job of forcing you into double teams and letting their linebackers run free to make tackles.

“(Valdosta State) is just very solid defensively,” continued Mullins. “You would want to make a blueprint based on what they do in the secondary. They’ve got speed, they know what they are doing and they know how to cover their areas.” That work in the secondary has allowed the Blazers to tie the GSC lead in interceptions this season with 12. VSU senior cornerback Stevie Harden has five of those interceptions, which is most by an individual in the GSC this year. Defense is not the only area in which the Blazers excel. They are the least-penalized team in the conference, and Valdosta State ranks among the top four teams in the GSC in kickoff return average, net punting, kickoff coverage and field goal percentage. VSU place kicker Daniel Anderson is one of just two kickers in the GSC — Southern Arkansas’ Noe Cuevas is the other — who has not missed a point after touchdown kick this season. Anderson is 20-for-20. That combination of defense, discipline and special teams has made the Blazers tough in close games. Five of their seven contests have been decided by five points or less, and Valdosta State is 4-1 in those close calls. The Blazers have won four consecutive games, and the last three (5-0 over North Alabama, 21-19 over Ouachita Baptist and 21-17 over Arkansas-Monticello) have all been nail biters. All of it has allowed Valdosta State to contend for the GSC title and a berth in the 2010 NCAA Division II Playoffs despite an offense that ranks eighth in the league (330.4 yards per game). Mullins knows that above all else, his team cannot afford to give the Blazers a short field to work with. “When you have disregard for protection of the football, it’s going to make it hard on everybody,” said Mullins. “Valdosta is a team that’s going to force turnovers and a team that’s going to force you to earn your way down the field. So far, we have not proven that we can do that offensively. If we go out and turn the ball over five times in this game, it’s going to be a long afternoon.” Russellville radio station KWKK 100.9 FM will have the broadcast of Saturday’s game.