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Wonder Boys Set to Welcome West Alabama

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Last Saturday proved that the 2011 Arkansas Tech Wonder Boys are capable of competing with the best that NCAA Division II football has to offer.  Arkansas Tech will carry that confidence into Thone Stadium at Buerkle Field in Russellville on Saturday, Sept. 24, when the Wonder Boys host the West Alabama Tigers in non-conference action. Kickoff for Arkansas Tech (1-2) and West Alabama (2-1) is set for 6 p.m.

It will be Family Day at Arkansas Tech. Discounted tickets of $5 for adults and $3 for students and senior citizens will be available at the Thone Stadium at Buerkle Field ticket office from 3-5 p.m. Saturday. Those with a valid Tech identification card will be admitted free. Party at the Plaza, the pre-game tailgating celebration outside the stadium on Centennial Plaza, will begin at 4 p.m. Satisfaction, a Rolling Stones tribute band, will perform a free concert from 4-5:30 p.m. The Wonder Boys led nationally 10th-ranked Delta State 32-27 early in the fourth quarter last Saturday, but the Statesmen’s passing attack was too much to overcome.

DSU quarterback Micah Davis threw a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown strikes as part of his 419-yard passing night and the defending NCAA Division II national runner-up Statesmen rallied to win 47-32. “There were a lot of positives that we can take away from the Delta State game,” said Arkansas Tech head coach Steve Mullins. “Sometimes those positives are hard to find in the hours right after a loss, but as you go back and evaluate the game tape our guys fought extremely hard. I couldn’t be more pleased with the effort. Now it’s up to us as a team and as a coaching staff to make sure that our effort is going in the right direction.” West Alabama was forced to take a new direction last Saturday when starting quarterback Gary Johnston left the Tigers’ game against Central State (Ohio) midway through the first quarter with a left leg injury. His replacement --- Karl Birkenfeld --- completed 6-of-9 passes for 147 yards and carried seven times for 41 yards as the Tigers defeated Central State 45-7 at Tiger Stadium in Livingston, Ala. Mullins said that the West Alabama offense did not miss a beat with Birkenfeld at the controls, and senior wide receiver Gerald Worsham was one big reason why. “(Worsham) has tormented us for a long time,” said Mullins, who has seen Worsham accumulate 342 all-purpose yards and score two touchdowns against the Wonder Boys over the past three seasons. “He has great hands, but the thing that always catches your eye about him is his speed. We have to be very conscious of him because he has the speed to outrun anyone on the field. It’s hard to prepare for someone like him because it is difficult to simulate that kind of speed in practice.” A native of Birmingham, Ala., Worsham was all-conference and all-region in 2010 after leading the Gulf South Conference with 1,201 receiving yards. So far this season, he has made 16 receptions for 205 yards and two touchdowns. Worsham also averages 27.2 yards per kickoff return. Arkansas Tech will counter with its own dynamic pass-catching and kickoff-returning weapon. Senior A.J. Whitmore, the reigning GAC special teams player of the week, had 277 all-purpose yards last Saturday against Delta State. He leads the GAC in all-purpose yardage (177.0 yards per game). Whitmore’s big night against the Statesmen included a 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the first quarter. It tied the 10th-longest kickoff return in Arkansas Tech history and was the first kickoff return for a touchdown by a Wonder Boy since 2009. Both Arkansas Tech and West Alabama will enter Saturday’s contest looking to improve defensively in a particular area. The Tigers rank last in the Gulf South Conference in rushing defense (156.0 yards allowed per game), while the Wonder Boys rank last in the Great American Conference in passing defense (355.0 yards allowed per game). “We’ve been caught several times making some technique mistakes in our man-to-man coverage,” said Mullins. “When you bring pressure, you’ve got to get the football out of the quarterback’s hand. Nobody, not even an all-pro cornerback, can play man-to-man against a quality opponent for four or more seconds. Pass defense and pass pressure go hand-in-hand.” Radio station KWKK 100.9 FM will have the broadcast of the Arkansas Tech-West Alabama game in the Arkansas River Valley.

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