Boll Weevils earn third straight win

Finishing games is something Hud Jackson has preached to his football teams since he arrived at the University of Arkansas at Monticello in time for the 2011 season. This fall, Jackson and his staff are seeing the fruits of the labors recognized on the field.
The Boll Weevils are playing in rarefied air indeed. Only once in Jackson’s tenure as head coach—and only four times in the 21st century—has UAM enjoyed the success in which it currently revels. After a 35-23 Homecoming victory over Southern Nazarene University Saturday at Willis “Convoy” Leslie Cotton Boll Stadium, the Weevils stand two games over .500 after eight games for the first time since 2013.
Following a weather delay of about two hours, UAM more than took care of business against the Crimson Storm. In a game where the final score was in no way indicative of the domination the Weevils showed, they improved their overall record to 5-3. Since every game on UAM’s schedule is also a Great American Conference contest, the Kelly Green and White is also two games above .500 on the league—currently only game behind a four-team logjam in first place.
Jackson’s bunch has already defeated one of those four—Arkansas Tech University—and will face another this Saturday when UAM visits Ouachita Baptist University. Kickoff in Arkadelphia is 1 p.m.
The Tigers are coming off a 52-14 drubbing of Oklahoma Baptist University (which fell to the Weevils 64-21 two weekends ago). Elsewhere around the GAC, preseason favorite Southern Arkansas University “upset” No. 25 Southeastern Oklahoma State University 49-19, Tech drubbed Northwestern Oklahoma State University 66-10, Harding University shutout Southwestern Oklahoma State University 42-0 and East Central University downed Henderson State University 24-16 in the Reddies’ 1,000th game in program history.
While UAM is quite a few years from that milestone, the Weevils could match the 2008 and 2004 (not coincidentally, the school’s only two winning seasons in this century) units with their fourth consecutive win at Cliff Harris Stadium—and secure Jackson’s first above-.500 season in seven years.
Should this year’s GAC Cinderella pull off that feat Saturday, a victory on Senior Day against Henderson (Nov. 4) would represent the longest UAM win streak in football since the late Tommy Barnes led the Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference champion Weevils to seven wins in a row (including the first round of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics national playoffs) in 1993.
“I was very proud of our team,” Jackson said after the SNU contest. “Having to overcome a rain delay and having no halftime was a concern for me, but our players showed great maturity and played even better in the second half.
“I thought our defense forced SNU to do things offensively that they were not comfortable doing.  Our offense established the run game early. Imani Riley had a very productive night; I was glad he was able to return this week.  All of our backs ran the ball well. Cole (Sears) did a great job of managing the clock and leading our offense.
“And I thought Hakim Gray and the entire defensive line played well.  We will have to have a really good week of practice to compete against a very good OBU team. We have to continue to take one game at a time. We control our fate.”
Riley, a former Monticello Billie who missed the Oklahoma Baptist game with a nagging injury that has kept him in the sidelines more than Jackson wanted in his three years as a Weevil, rushed 15 times for a season-best 107 yards and scored one of UAM’s five touchdowns against Southern Nazarene. The 5-foot-9, 200-pound redshirt junior running back’s second-quarter score gave the Weevils a lead they would never relinquish with 6:05 remaining before (what would have been) halftime.
His rushing yardage total helped UAM amass 290 yards on the ground while the Weevils’ defense held the Crimson Storm to under 100. For the game, the hosts outgained Southern Nazarene a whopping 417-163, winning pretty much every statistical category that matters. If there was a negative to his team’s performance, Jackson said it would have to be penalties; UAM—the most-penalized club in the GAC—was flagged 10 times for 120 yards.  
Riley’s ground exploits also helped draw the attention off the Weevils’ vaunted passing game. Sears, though, still added three more scoring passes to his yearly total, giving him 23 scoring strikes in eight games.
One wideout who wasn’t on the receiving end of any of those Sears’ tosses against SNU was Jalen Tolliver. The senior record-holder maintained his school mark of 33, set early this fall, but added to his UAM record for career receiving yards with 41, giving him 2,832 during his four years in Monticello.
Tolliver’s three receptions drew him within 21 catches of passing Jywin Caeser’s career mark of 194 set in 2007-10. He also has an outside chance of breaking Von Mixon’s 2004 record of 1,245 receiving yards in a season. Tolliver would need to average more than 157 yards in his final three regular-season contests but it’s not out of the question—he had a 12-catch, five-touchdown, 245-yard game earlier this fall.
When Mother Nature relented and this year’s Homecoming game finally got underway, it didn’t take UAM long to find the end zone. Senior wide receiver Trevon Smith hailed in a 26-yard pass from the hosts’ junior quarterback that, with sophomore placekicker’s Josh Marini’s extra point, put the Weevils up 7-0. The teams traded touchdowns (the second UAM score was a 14-yard strike from Sears to senior tight end Austin Harris) until Riley’s three-yard run made it 21-14 and the Weevils were off and running.
Back-to-back scores by senior wide receiver Jamal Chevis late in the second period and junior running back Nigel Dora late in the third gave UAM a comfortable 35-14 advantage, more than enough to withstand two fourth-quarter scores by SNU.
Chevis’ score was a 21-yard pass and Dora’s was a 42-yard run that gave UAM three touchdowns of more than 20 yards. Even with those quick strikes, the Weevils were able to control the line of scrimmage for 32:30 and run 68 offensive plays to the Crimson Storm’s 59.   
The team maturity Jackson spoke of will play a large part in UAM’s final 2017 regular-season contests against Ouachita, Henderson and rival Southern Arkansas (in the annual Battle of the Timberlands). As a unit, the Weevils have won only one of their last 15 late-season games, including losing their last three in four consecutive years from 2012-15.
But, as Jackson is fond of saying, this team is a totally different unit. If the Cinderella season continues (and it will be difficult with two road games in the last three), UAM could possibly earn its way into a postseason contest with its first eight-win fall since 2000.
Stranger things have happened.

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