CONWAY — One of the most prolific offenses in the nation comes to Conway on Saturday to take on the No. 20/23 University of Central Arkansas Bears in a Homecoming matchup at First Security Field at Estes Stadium.
Stephen F. Austin, the only team to beat UCA in last year’s Southland Conference co-championship run (6-1), averages 563 yards of total offense a game, with 378 of that coming through the air, courtesy of senior quarterback Brady Attaway. He ranks first in the SLC in passing yards and total offense, but is only sixth in pass efficiency.
The Bears (4-3, 1-1) will counter with one of the top pass defenses in the league, one allowing just 218 yards a game through the air. UCA has only three interceptions this season, after picking off 15 passes a year ago, but has forced 16 fumbles through seven games.
UCA is coming off a gutsy 26-24 road victory over the Lamar Cardinals last week, while SFA (3-4, 1-1) rolled past Nicholls State 51-44 at home. The Bears got a solid performance from junior quarterback Ryan Howard in his first career start in place of the injured Wynrick Smothers. Howard completed 26 of 40 passes for 281 yards and three touchdowns.
The Bears lost their sixth player to a season-ending injury against Lamar when senior tight end Chase Dixon broke his right fibula in the third quarter. He joins Smothers and fellow seniors Karl Brady and Dominique Brown, along with redshirt freshmen Aum’Arie Wallace and Cody Dauksch, who are all lost for the season due to injury.
Sophomore receiver had his best game as a Bears, catching four passes for 100 yards and the game-winning touchdown, a 23-yard strike from Howard in the left side of the end zone with 2:53 left to play. Thirteen different receivers caught passes for the Bears, including four receptions each for freshman Jatavious Wilson and sophomore running back Blake Veasley.
Senior linebacker Justin Heard, returning from suspension, sparked the UCA defense with 11 tackles, including two for loss and a half sack. Heard leads UCA in tackles for the season with 31, despite missing three games. Sophomore All-SLC defensive end Jonathan Woodard had six tackles, including two sacks. Senior cornerback Marcus Peters recorded a career-high nine tackles and also recovered a fumble.
UCA leads the series with SFA 4-3, with all games coming since the Bears joined the Southland Conference in 2006. The Bears have won two of three games played in Conway. The Lumberjacks won 42-37 last season in a driving rain storm in Nacogdoches, Texas.
After Saturday, the Bears have four regular-season games remaining, two at home and two on the road.