When the playoff field was announced on Sunday, the Central Arkansas Bears found out that they will get a chance to continue in their playoff mode with a road game at Tennessee Tech this Saturday with the winner of that contest facing another road game at #4 seeded Montana the following week.
By Kent Schmidt
CSN West Columnist
College Sporting News
With their winning streak UCA will enter the playoff field as one of the hottest teams in the field but will not get to show off their new purple and gray field as they will be on the road for their DI playoff debut.
How did the Bears start their season?
It was not as if the Bears did not have tough competition to start the season. The Bears wound up finishing with a 6-1 record and in second place in the Southland Conference behind Sam Houston State.
UCA’s only three losses this season were to top playoff seeded Sam Houston State 31-10 and two FBS programs, at Louisiana Tech in overtime 48-42 and at Arkansas State 53-24. Those three schools are a combined 27-6 overall and 19-1 in their respective conferences. ASU won the Sun Belt Conference and Louisiana Tech won the Western Athletic Conference.
The lone win in the first four games was over DII in-state rival Henderson State 38-14.
The Bears then defeated seven straight FCS foes with six coming against Southland competition and against former Southland member Texas State, who is an independent this season before moving to FBS and the WAC next year, to end their season. That last game against the Bobcats was a 23-22 thriller that saw the Bears hit a field goal with just over a minute to play to grab the seventh DI victory.
“It was awesome news (getting the at-large playoff spot) for our football team, for our program and for our university,’ said UCA head coach Clint Conque,. “It’s very special to be the first program in our athletic department to go to the NCAA (Division I) championships.
“Certainly this team has shown a lot of resolve and resiliency throughout this season to make that happen. They have great leadership, great belief and faith in each other and the coaches. Just very proud of our team and our coaches."
Have the Bears reached the postseason before?
Yes, UCA has reached the Division II playoffs the year before they transitioned to DI in 2005, as well as in 2001. That last season, the Bears reached the DII quarterfinals with two road victories before falling out.
Central Arkansas transitioned to DI in 2006 and were first eligible for the DI postseason a year ago. They nearly made the field a season ago—coming up one DI victory short in finishing 7-4 from being eligible as one of the wins last year was against a DII team in Elizabeth City State.
Who have been the players that have helped the Bears get to this level?
The Bears had nine players named to the All-Southland team and all are a big reason why the Bears are still playing and why they won their last seven games.
Heading the list of UCA honorees of first team all-conference performers is senior quarterback Nathan Dick, a two-time selection. He was joined by sophomore offensive lineman Dominique Allen, senior defensive end Jermayne Lett and junior linebacker Seth Allison.
UCA’s second-team selections included junior running back Jackie Hinton, junior wide receiver Jesse Grandy, senior center Logan Roubique, redshirt freshman kicker Eddie Camara and sophomore safety Jestin Love.
Five other players were named honorable mention, including junior receiver Dominique Croom, senior linebacker Frank Newsome, sophomore noseguard Matt Hornbuckle, senior cornerback Jerrel McKnight and senior receiver/kick returner Isaiah Jackson.
Dick is currently second in the conference in passing, total offense and passing efficiency. Hinton is fourth in rushing, while Grandy is seventh in receptions and receiving yards. Camara is second in kick scoring in the SLC and third overall.
Jackson is fifth in kick return average and UCA’s top career leader, as well as seventh in all-purpose yards. Allison is tied for first in tackles for loss, tied for fourth in sacks and fifth in total tackles. Lett is tied with Allison for both tackles for loss and sacks. Love is tied for second in interceptions and tied for seventh in pass breakups.
Allen and Roubique anchored an offensive line that averaged 405.8 yards per game, third in the SLC.
Croom was UCA’s second-leading receiver and ranked 10th in the conference. Newsome was 12th in the league in tackles. Hornbuckle had 30 tackles and four sacks this season. McKnight had an interception and two fumble recoveries.
Who will be the Bears first round opponent?
As mentioned earlier, Central Arkansas will play Tennessee Tech on the road this week in Cookeville, Tennessee. The Golden Eagles were the Ohio Valley Conference co-champions and won that league’s automatic bid for the postseason party.
The Eagles enter this week’s game at 7-3 and will enter the Division I playoffs for the first time in their history.
Tennessee Tech beat in-state rival Austin Peay 49-7 on last Saturday to tie for the conference title. The Golden Eagles got the automatic bid by virtue of head-to-head wins over fellow co-champions Eastern Kentucky and Jacksonville State. It was the first OCV title for the Golden Eagles in 36 years.
It will be a tough road contest against the Golden Eagles but as the Bears have proven so far they have the resolve to continue this season as they did starting with their fifth game this season. Another stumbling block awaits this team and I believe they will have the resolve to continue their season yet another week.
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CSN West Playoff Preview
Central Arkansas (8-3, 5-1 SLC) @ Tennessee Tech (7-3, 6-2 OVC), 3:00 pm Eastern
This matchup will be one with two dynamic quarterbacks leading their respective teams and high octane offenses.
For the Bears, Nathan Dick has completed 64.3 percent of his passes (209-for-333) for 2,691 yards and 28 touchdowns.. He has rushed 55 times for 100 yards, and is averaging 279 yards of total offense per game.
TTU is led by junior Tre Lamb, who has completed 64.7 percent of his passes (174-for-269) for 2,051 yards and 15 touchdowns. He has rushed 102 times for 205 yards and is averaging 225.6 yards per game of total offense. With six rushing touchdowns, Lamb is responsible for 21 touchdowns this season, which is tied for the school record.
Ten different UCA receivers have caught at least 10 passes this season, led by Jesse Grandy with 43 reeptions for 683 yards and seven scores. Tech has six different receivers with 10 or more receptions, paced by OVC Offensive Player of the Year Tim Benford with 58 catches for 826 yards and five touchdowns. Benford owns the TTU school career records for most receptions (209) and most receiving yards (3,011), and is tied for the record with 27 TD catches.
In the backfield, UCA is led by Jackie Hinton who is averaging 64.3 yards per game. He has 579 yards and four touchdowns on 122 carries. Tech's running game is led by senior Dontey Gay, who rushed for 192 yards last week against Austin Peay to edge past the 1,000-yard mark for the season. He has 1,009 yards on 180 carries and leads the OVC with 15 rushing touchdowns, a school record.
The leader on defense for Central Arkansas is junior linebacker Seth Allison, who leads the Southland Conference with 94 tackles along with 14.5 tackles-for-loss. Tech's defensive stats are topped by true freshman Austin Tallant with 76 tackles, while linebacker Howard Griffin and cornerback Richmond Tooley had each made 72 tackles.
I believe this matchup will be very close but I like the resolve of the Bears so far. I think Central Arkansas will win a wild shootout and advance to play Montana next week. I like the Bears by a touchdown.
Central Arkansas 38 Tennessee Tech 31