MAKING BITTERSWEET MEMORIES
Most college coaches—the University of Arkansas at Monticello’s Hud Jackson included—are fond of wearing out the old cliche, “On any given Saturday, … .” The majority of them are talking about their teams, not individual athletes. After Saturday, though, Jackson could very well apply that phrase to one Jalen Tolliver.
A weekend after having one of his worst games in a Boll Weevil uniform (one catch for no yards), the All-American wide receiver had his best game in Kelly Green and White against Harding University. Unfortunately, Tolliver’s 12-catch, 245-yard, five-touchdown day was not enough to give UAM its first win against the Bisons since 2009. Harding outscored the Weevils 56-46 to likely provide the 6-foot-3, 210-pound senior with some bittersweet memories.
Not only did Tolliver have the most receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns in a game he’s had in Monticello, he supplanted a UAM legend in the record books—and broke one of the longest-standing receiving marks in school history.
Hubert Heflin, a two-time All-Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference end in the late 1940s and early 1950s, had held the Arkansas A&M College/UAM career receiving touchdowns scored record with 29 for 66 years—until Saturday.
Tolliver’s five receiving touchdowns gave him 30 as a Weevil, with at least six games to add to that total this fall. In fact, his name may just well appear the most in UAM pass receiving records after 2017. The Rayville, La., product is a mere 15 yards shy of surpassing the career receiving yards mark of 2,646 set by Anthony Giovingo in 1995-98, and he’s just 37 receptions away from erasing the 194-career receptions record of Jywin Ceaser, established in 2007-10.
“It was a very tough game,” Jackson said of UAM’s trip to Searcy. “We had our chances but could not hold the lead. We knew their offense would pose some problems because of not seeing it but once a year. Jalen Tolliver had a record-breaking night. I’m still scratching my head on how he wasn’t (Great American Conference) Player of the Week.”
Indeed, it’s almost impossible for any player on any losing team to earn “best player” in any sport on any level but there is precedent (see the Los Angeles Lakers’ Jerry West after the 1968-69 season or Dallas’ Chuck Howley in 1971). As it was, Ouachita Baptist University junior wide receiver Drew Harris and Barrett Renner, a junior quarterback at Southern Arkansas University, shared that GC honor.
Harris opened and closed the scoring in Ouachita’s 35-31 win at then-No. 11 Arkansas Tech University. He scored on a 70-yard catch and run 46 seconds into game. In the fourth quarter, he scored twice on the ground as he found the end zone from 34 yards out to pull the Tigers to within two points and he scored the winning touchdown on a four-yard run with 1:36 remaining.
Renner produced his most efficient and productive game of Mulerider career as he completed 32 of 41 passes for 405 yards and six touchdowns. The six touchdown passes tied the SAU single-game record. All six touchdowns went to different receivers. With the 32 completions, he set the SAU career record, breaking a mark held by two-time All-GAC quarterback Tyler Skyora.
Tolliver himself tied the league record for receiving touchdowns in a game, setting a new UAM mark in that category and could have well made it a trifecta for GAC Offensive Player of the Week. He would likely have passed on all the record talk and POW mentions for 11 more points as a team.
Three of his first four scores either gave the Weevils the lead or extended their advantage but a 28-point fourth quarter by Harding did in Tolliver and his Weevil teammates.
As the Bisons have been known to do, they rushed for almost 500 yards on 60 carries to control the game. Harding kept the football for 36 minutes, 5 seconds while UAM’s quick-strike offense had control for much less.
“We didn’t make stops when we had them in third-down situations,” Jackson noted. “Wesley Williams played well for us on defense, and offensively, we got into a groove. Several players had great games. (Quarterback) Cole (Sears) played good. Our running game was solid.
“The special teams had breakdown on kickoff coverage and a blocked punt due to alignment issues. The bottom line is that all phases have to play good for us to have a chance to win.”
After Tolliver found the end zone for the fourth time in the evening, UAM had its biggest lead at 32-21 midway through the third quarter. But Harding scored five of the next six touchdowns to effectively put the game away.
The Weevils opened the scoring when Sears found Tolliver from 35 yards out at the 11:39 mark of the first period. The extra point was blocked, leaving UAM up 6-0. By the time that combination hooked up again, the Weevils were down eight. Two consecutive scoring tosses from Sears to Tolliver, though (the last one a Hail Mary pass from the Harding 36 as time expired before halftime), put the visitors up 18-14 at intermission.
In the third quarter, the teams swapped totally different scoring runs before Tolliver gave UAM its biggest lead. Harding retook the advantage with just a little more than three minutes gone in the second half but sophomore Deountario Brown broke an 81-yard run second later to not only become the first Weevil besides Tolliver to find the end zone but put UAM back up by four points.
Unfortunately for the visitors, Harding outscored UAM 35-7 in the next 19 minutes. A Sears to senior Trevon Smith 19-yard scoring pass with 40 seconds left accounted for the Weevils’ final touchdown.
Tolliver’s touchdown receptions were 35, six, 36, 20 and 39 yards, giving him 136 yards on just scoring plays alone. The 245-yard night gave him 573 receiving yards in 2017 and 2,632 yards for his career. He now has 33 receptions this fall and 158 in Kelly Green and White.
Ahead for Tolliver and his Weevil teammates is a return home to Willis “Convoy” Leslie Cotton Boll Stadium after two weeks on the road to face Arkansas Tech. In three years, the All-American has caught seven passes for 222 yards and two scores against the Wonder Boys.
Tech dropped its first game of the season last weekend 35-31 to Ouachita and fell in the American Football Coaches Association poll to No. 24. Despite that loss, Arkansas Tech still leads the GAC in scoring offense (39.0 points per game), scoring defense (16.0 points per game) and red-zone scores (with 9-for-13 chances).
“Tech is coming in this week,” Jackson said, “and they’re a very good team. We will have to play really well to have a chance to win. Our players will be up for the challenge.”
Elsewhere around the GAC, Southeastern Oklahoma State University remained undefeated with a 30-27 victory over Northwestern Oklahoma State University that vaulted the Savage Storm to No. 23 in the latest AFCA poll. Preseason conference favorite Southern Arkansas kept Oklahoma Baptist University winless with a 56-27 thrashing of the Bison.
The surprise team of 2017 so far has been Southern Nazarene University, though. The Crimson Storm moved to 3-2 overall with their first-ever win over Henderson State University, 42-24. Southwestern Oklahoma State University defeated East Central University 48-37 in the remaining GAC contest.