Weevils upset No. 24 A-Tech
One word was all it took for University of Arkansas at Monticello head football coach Hud Jackson to sum up his feelings after a back-and-forth 46-45 victory over then-No. 24 Arkansas Tech University Saturday afternoon at Willis “Convoy” Leslie Cotton Boll Stadium. After suffering 15 close losses in his seven years at UAM (four to Tech), Jackson said it was pretty sweet to be on the winning side of that ledger for a change.
Junior quarterback Cole Sears scored his seventh rushing touchdown of the season to cap a nine-play, 71-yard drive from 10 yards out with 1:44 remaining in the fourth quarter to bring the Boll Weevils all the way back from what had been a 10-point deficit some 12 minutes earlier to—with sophomore placekicker Josh Marini’s fourth extra point of the game—seal the upset of the Wonder Boys.
“Our team played really well,” Jackson said. “Offensively, we were able to get a balanced attack. I was very proud of the offensive line and our run game was very productive.
“Defensively, we made some key stops. I thought we started to jell as a unit. Having some key players back is a great blessing on the defensive side. The defensive line played really physical; they took control of that last drive by ATU.
“I’m so proud of the effort of special teams. Josh Marini had two big field goals. I’m really proud of our coaches, too, and how they kept our players locked in. These guys work hard.”
The tightness of the contest overshadowed another record that fell to senior wide receiver Jalen Tolliver. With his first of two touchdown catches from Sears, the 6-foot-3, 210-pound wide receiver added the UAM career receiving yardage record to his repertoire. Tolliver, who finished the game with nine catches for 111 yards and two scores and was awarded the co-Offensive Player of the Week in the Great American Conference, now has 2,743 receiving yards during his Weevil career, breaking the old mark of 2,646 held by Anthony Giovingo from 1995-98.
That was Tolliver’s second UAM career record in as many weeks. Against Harding University, his five receiving touchdowns gave him 30 for his time in Kelly Green and White, breaking the long-standing mark of 29 set by Hubert Heflin in 1949-52. Now with 32 receiving scores and at least five games remaining in his final Weevil season, the Rayville, La. native is sure to solidify his name in school receiving records for years to come.
And he’s within reach of another pair of school records. Tolliver needs just 28 receptions to surpass the 194 by Jywin Ceaser in 2007-10—and he’s just 562 yards shy of breaking Von Mixon’s single-season yardage record of 1,245. With 684 receiving yards in the first six games this fall (a 114.0 per game average), Tolliver is on track to add that record to his resume, as well.
Lest opponents key too much on Tolliver, though, UAM has several other skilled-position threats, as Arkansas Tech found out Saturday. Sears put up his sixth career 300-yard passing game, finishing with 365 yards passing on 29 of 49 completions with three touchdowns and one interception. The 6-3, 220-pound Hoxie product now has 1,525 yards passing in 2017.
“Cole and Jalen both had outstanding nights,” Jackson noted. “Jalen broke another record but all our players will always play hard. Now, they are finishing games—which is a great sign of maturity.”
After taking a 22-21 lead into the halftime locker room, UAM matched Tech point-for-point after intermission—but the win wasn’t easy. The Wonder Boys assumed a 10-point advantage after Sears’ one interception was returned for a touchdown with 13:10 left to be played.
As a sign of what Jackson praised, though, the Weevils outscored ATU 14-3 after that turnover to finally do what Jackson and his staff have been preaching for years—finish a game.
The Sears-to-Tolliver combination from 20 yards away pulled UAM to within three points with 8:43 left in the fourth quarter. The Weevil defense made its biggest stand following that score, holding Tech to a field goal, which gave the hosts an opportunity.
When Sears ran in from the Tech 10-yard line and Marini added the extra point, UAM had indeed seized that opportunity.
“It’s nice to beat the No. 24 team in the country,” Jackson said.
After a first quarter in which the teams traded touchdown passes, Tolliver gave UAM a short-lived lead with the first rushing touchdown of his career, from one yard out, at 10:43 of the second period. Tech would retake the lead three minutes later, but redshirt freshman Logan Penn bowled over from the two with 3:05 on the second-quarter clock to put the Weevils up by five points, when the two-point conversion attempt failed.
Both teams would score once more before halftime but Marini’s 33-yard field goal with just 20 ticks left in the second period gave UAM its one-point lead heading to the break. In the third quarter, the Wonder Boys promptly reassumed the lead but a 33-yard scoring toss from Sears to senior Trevon Smith and Marini’s second three-pointer, this one from 29 yards away, staked the Weevils to a four-point lead entering the fourth quarter.
In that final 15 minutes, the first half of the period belonged to Tech but the last eight minutes or so belonged to UAM. The Weevils outgained the Wonder Boys 545-382 and pretty much dominated the statistics with 31 first downs to Tech’s 17 and 93 offensive plays to the Wonder Boys’ 54. Despite losing the turnover battle 2-0, UAM kept Tech’s high-powered offensive off the field by holding the ball from 40 minutes, 32 seconds as compared with the Wonder Boys’ 19:28 time of possession.
Elsewhere around the GAC, Henderson State University kept the Weevils’ next opponent, Oklahoma Baptist University, winless with a 14-13 squeaker. Nonetheless, Jackson said his 3-3 Weevils had better keep the same mindset that led to an upset of a nationally ranked team heading into Shawnee, Okla. this weekend.
“Oklahoma Baptist is a team that is playing hard,” Jackson said. “We have to be on point with our preparation this week. We can’t be satisfied. This game will say a lot about our team.”
In other games, Southeastern Oklahoma State University remained the only undefeated team in the GAC with a 31-24 win over Southwestern Oklahoma State University; preseason coaches’ favorite Southern Arkansas University improved to 4-2 with a 27-15 win over Southern Nazarene University; Harding tripped up Ouachita Baptist University 31-28; and Northwestern Oklahoma State University beat East Central University 38-20.