Arkansas Tech has won eight consecutive home football games. Head coach Steve Mullins knows extending that streak will be next to impossible if the Wonder Boys continue to turn the ball over at their current rate. “We’ve got to reduce our turnovers and have more respect for the football,” said Mullins. “We haven’t been pitiful on offense, but we haven’t been very good. Hopefully the things we’ve emphasized and worked on in practice this week will pay off on Saturday night.” Arkansas Tech (1-1) will host Henderson State (1-1) in the 2010 Gulf South Conference opener for both teams at 6 p.m. Saturday at Thone Stadium at Buerkle Field.
Pre-game Family Day festivities, including a live concert and tailgating activities, will begin with Party at the Plaza at 3 p.m. Tickets will be available at the stadium ticket office. Those with a valid Tech identification card will be admitted free. It was known going into the season that the graduation of four All-Americans on offense would cause the Wonder Boys some growing pains in 2010. Those growing pains have been manifested in turnovers. Arkansas Tech has committed 11 turnovers through its first two games of the season.
No other GSC team has more than eight turnovers in 2010, and the Wonder Boys are tied with West Alabama for the worst turnover margin in the conference (minus-5).
Arkansas Tech has been able to overcome those issues to defeat Lambuth University 34-19 in its season opener and push nationally-ranked Delta State to the limit before the Statesmen emerged with a 27-25 victory over the Wonder Boys.
The win over Lambuth became all the more impressive last Saturday when the Eagles went on the road and defeated NCAA Division I-Football Championship Subdivision member Georgia State 23-14 in Atlanta.
The number one reason that Arkansas Tech has been able to overcome its turnover problems has been its defense.
The Wonder Boys rank third in the GSC and 13th in NCAA Division II in rushing defense (63.5 yards allowed per game) and fourth in the GSC in total defense (255.5 yards allowed per game).
“Our defense played extremely well again at Delta State, especially when you consider the number of turnovers we had,” said Mullins. “Of the 27 points they scored, seven came off an offensive turnover, six came on long-range field goals and another seven were awarded by the officials (on an incorrect call that the GSC has since acknowledged).” Henderson State’s results in 2010 have been very similar to Arkansas Tech’s. The Reddies have a home win --- 44-13 over Southeastern Oklahoma State on Aug. 26 --- and a road loss --- 27-10 at North Alabama on Sept. 4. Quarterback Nick Hardesty directs a Henderson State offense that ranks third in the GSC in passing (296.5 yards per game) “They are going back to some old (head coach Scott Maxfield) style and they are throwing the football quite a bit,” said Mullins. “Hardesty is playing like a senior quarterback. He looks twice as good as a year ago --- more experienced, knows the system and you can tell he is very comfortable with what they do.” Arkansas Tech sacked Hardesty four times in a 44-14 Wonder Boys’ victory at Henderson State in 2009. It was a different story two years ago when the Reddies came to Russellville and handed Tech a rare home loss. HSU scored twice in the fourth quarter to defeat the Wonder Boys 29-21. The setback was rare not only because it came at home --- Tech is 48-19 at Thone Stadium at Buerkle Field during Mullins’ tenure at head coach --- but also because the Reddies came from behind. Tech is 67-6 when leading at halftime and 73-3 when leading after three quarters since Mullins came to Russellville in 1997.
Tech has not dropped a game at Thone Stadium at Buerkle Field since that Oct. 25, 2008, loss to the Reddies.
If the Wonder Boys can make it nine in a row at home on Saturday, they will gain a measure of revenge for their last home loss and bragging rights over Henderson State for the next two years.
“Through a quirk in the schedule, Henderson State is one of the teams we will not play next year,” said Mullins. “It will be 2012 before we get them back on the schedule, so that adds a little bit to Saturday’s game.”
Russellville radio station KWKK 100.9 FM will have the broadcast on Saturday.