Wonder Boys to Host NWOSU on Homecoming

Among the faces in the crowd when Arkansas Tech University celebrates its 2017 Homecoming by hosting Northwestern Oklahoma State University on Saturday will be some of the men who helped the Wonder Boys accumulate their 18 football conference championships.

Raymond Monica, head coach at ATU, is reminding his team of that fact this week as the Wonder Boys continue their efforts to bring home the 2017 Great American Conference title.

“The big thing our players have to understand is this game…guys who played here are more likely to come back and watch the Homecoming game,” said Monica. “I tell them down the road…it might be next year, it might be 20 years from now…this is the game you’re going to come to and see how the Wonder Boys are playing. Those former players and our alumni are coming to cheer us on, and they want to see us win.”

Kickoff for Arkansas Tech (5-2 overall, 5-2 GAC) and Northwestern Oklahoma State (3-4, 3-4) is set for 2 p.m. Saturday at Thone Stadium at Buerkle Field in Russellville.

Party at the Plaza, the pre-game tailgating celebration outside the stadium on Centennial Plaza, will begin at 11 a.m. The ceremony to crown the Homecoming queen will begin at 1:30 p.m. inside the stadium. Game tickets ($10 adults/$5 students and senior citizens) will be available at the stadium ticket office on Saturday. Those with a valid ATU identification card will be admitted free of charge.

Last Saturday, ATU went to Southwestern Oklahoma State University and defeated the Bulldogs 38-21. That same afternoon saw Henderson State University take down previously undefeated Southeastern Oklahoma State University 21-20.

As a result, the Southeastern Oklahoma State (6-1, 6-1) lead over Arkansas Tech, Ouachita Baptist University (5-2, 5-2) and Southern Arkansas University (5-2, 5-2) for first place in the GAC standings is down to one game with four weeks remaining in the regular season.

The Wonder Boys’ football conference championship seasons came in 1931, 1935, 1939, 1945, 1946, 1947, 1948, 1949, 1954, 1958, 1960, 1961, 1964, 1968, 1970, 1971, 1994 and 1999. There have been numerous other achievements in the 18 years since that 18th conference title, including appearances in the second round of the NCAA Division II Playoffs in 2004 and 2009 and a win in the C.H.A.M.P.S. Heart of Texas Bowl in 2015, but Tech hasn’t celebrated a league championship since defeating SAU 20-17 in overtime on Nov. 13, 1999, to clinch the Gulf South Conference title.

“Our players understand there’s a lot of football left,” said Monica. “We can control our own destiny, but the bottom line is I want to get better today than we were yesterday.”

Northwestern Oklahoma State is just a handful of plays away from being a factor in the GAC title chase. Three of the Rangers’ four losses have come by three points or less.

NWOSU’s good play in 2017 has come in spite of the fact that quarterback Reid Miller, the leading passer in the Great American Conference a year ago, completed his eligibility at the end of the 2016 season.

“Going into the year, I was wondering what (NWOSU) was going to be like offensively,” said Monica. “They are totally different…the whole football team. They’re very balanced offensively.”

The Rangers ranked 11th in the conference in rushing (127.5 yards per game) last season. In 2017, Northwestern Oklahoma State is among the top five rushing teams in the GAC at 199.7 yards per game.

Another strength of the 2017 Rangers is pass defense. They rank second in the GAC against the pass (181.4 yards allowed per game), and their opponents have completed just 52.8 percent of their pass attempts this season.

“To me, it looks like (NWOSU) has a lot better athletes making plays,” said Monica when asked about the Rangers’ defense. “They haven’t given up a lot of big plays. They’re just playing more solid defense.”

One area in which Arkansas Tech’s offense might have an advantage over the Northwestern Oklahoma State defense is running the football. The Wonder Boys are averaging 224 rushing yards per game, second-most in the GAC, while the Rangers are No. 10 out of 12 GAC teams in rush defense (228.6 yards allowed per game).

Radio station KCJC 102.3 FM and www.arkansastechsports.com will have live coverage of Saturday’s ATU-NWOSU game.