MAGNOLIA — The Southern Arkansas football team took to the ground early and often in the second-annual Battle of the Timberlands rivalry game on Saturday afternoon as the Muleriders ran over Arkansas-Monticello for 321 yards on 63 carries en route to a physical 44-20 win; keeping the trophy in Magnolia for another year.
The 321 yards rushing and 63 carries were both season-highs for the Muleriders (6-4, 6-4 GAC), who secured their second straight winning season, a feat that has not been done since the 2002 and 2003 seasons.
Saturday’s rushing total against the Boll Weevils (5-6, 5-5 GAC) is the most in a game since the Muleriders ran for 306 yards in the Heart of Texas Bowl against McMurry to close out the 2012 season. The 63 carries are also the most in a game since SAU carried the ball the 56 times against East Central in 2012.
Senior running back Mark Johnson was the beneficiary of the high volume of rushing attempts as he carried the ball 42 times for 219 net yards. Coming into the game, Johnson, SAU’s all-time leading rusher, needed 229 net yards on the ground to secure his third-consecutive 1,000 yard season. Despite falling short of that 1,000-yard milestone this season, Johnson leaves SAU with a program-best 3,842 yards rushing on a SAU-record 772 carries. In 39 career games played, Johnson found the endzone a school-record 44 times (42 on the ground; another school-record).
In Saturday’s game, it was Johnson who got the Muleriders on the board as with 5:53 left in the first quarter, Johnson punched in from one-yard out to knot the game at 7-all.
The Muleriders then took the lead in the game with just over three minutes before halftime as Austin Shoemake nailed a 22-yard field goal to push the score to 10-7, SAU. That drive featured four Johnson rushes with his longest of the game, a 28-yard scamper, taking the ball inside the UAM 10-yardline.
On their first drive of the second half, SAU extended their lead to 10 points, 17-7, as Aarion Jones broke free for a 34-yard touchdown run. On that drive, SAU used six plays, rushing the ball on all six plays.
Minutes later, the Boll Weevils got back into the game as Mike Early returned a Dylan Nowak punt 88 yards for a touchdown with 7:40 left in the third quarter. UAM would not be able to get to within three points, however, as SAU’s Tate Mustin blocked the extra point attempt, making the score 17-13, SAU.
From there, the Muleriders would score 28 unanswered points, 21 coming in the fourth quarter, as they put the game on ice. The scores during that offensive outburst included a 19-yard touchdown catch by Chris Terry, two more rushing touchdowns by Johnson, and a one-yard plunge by Karon Dismuke.
UAM would score once more before the final horn as Nick Williams ran in from 14-yards out with 1:54 left to bring the score to its final, 44-20.
Saturday’s game was not only the second-annual Battle of the Timberlands, but it also served as the final game at Wilkins Stadium for 20 Mulerider football seniors. Among those seniors were: Dvan Alexander, Jack Brown, Tony Chalmers, Sam Cowling, Victor Daniels, Nick Davis, Bruce Guillory, Melvin Guillory, Mark Johnson, Aarion Jones, Alex Mills, Dominique Mitchell, Brandon Moton, Tate Mustin, Asht’on Pennywell, Josh Proffit, Mark Spaight, Tyler Sykora, and Brooks White (Van Buren).