Southern Arkansas University Coach Bill Keopple says the next five weeks of the Muleriders' Great American Conference schedule will be as much about their mental approach as any physical concerns.
The Muleriders (3-0, 3-0 GAC) are in the second of six consecutive weeks of playing Oklahoma opponents.
It's a stretch that continues with Saturday's game in Magnolia against Northwestern Oklahoma State (1-2, 1-2) and includes two more journeys across the border and two games in Magnolia.
The Muleriders don't meet another Arkansas GAC team until Oct. 27, when they play Henderson State, which also is in a stretch of six consecutive Oklahoma opponents, in the Murphy Oil Classic in El Dorado.
SAU's 36-12 victory over Southwestern Oklahoma State in Weatherford, Okla., on Saturday ended up looking impressive, but the first half was marked by the kind of listlessness that can come after spending more than seven hours on a bus.
"We were walking around in a daze," Keopple said of the Muleriders, who trailed 10-7 at halftime and 12-7 after suffering a safety with 9:24 to play in the third quarter.
Keopple said he wasn't necessarily surprised to be in that predicament, nor was he overly concerned.
"I still felt very confident," he said. "We were one touchdown away from being in the lead."
Keopple said the combination of extensive travel and a bit of overconfidence -- "going against a team your guys think they should beat" -- contributed to the early sluggishness.
SAU woke up to outscore the Bulldogs 29-0 over the final 18:22, with senior quarterback Barrett Renner (22-31 passing, 362 yards, 4 TDs) and senior wide receiver Karonce Higgins (13-237 receiving, 2 TDs) leading the way.
Higgins' performance earned him Offensive Player of the Week in the GAC, and he was also recognized as the national player of the week by division2.com
"He's playing like a senior," Keopple said of Higgins. "That's what you want out of your seniors."
Keopple said this week's assignment against NWOSU has the Muleriders' attention for several reasons.
Not only did the Rangers beat Henderson State on Saturday, but they pummelled the Muleriders 38-14 last year in Alva.
"Our guys are going to have their stingers out," Keopple said.
Tigers scratch and claw
Ouachita Baptist (3-0, 3-0 GAC) played most of Saturday's 32-16 victory over Southeastern Oklahoma State without two of its top offensive performers and trailed 16-14 midway in the third quarter in Durant, Okla., a place that has given the Tigers fits over the years.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Brayden Brazeal took over, leading the Tigers to 18 fourth-quarter points as OBU pulled away.
"Our quarterback really came to life in the fourth quarter," Coach Todd Knight said, "and our defense played lights out."
OBU played without senior running back Kris Oliver, limited to 1 pass reception for 8 yards, and all-purpose back Drew Harris (1-38 receiving) in the second half.
Knight said Oliver "should be back" for Saturday's game against East Central (Okla.) and Harris, who has yet to score a touchdown after 26 last season, "has a chance to be back."
Knight said: "Neither of them are season ending."
Brazeal ended up rushing for 136 yards and passing for 108 in his third start.
Shun'cee Thomas (16-114 rushing) filled in for Oliver in the backfield and Allie Freeman put up 132 all-purpose yards to compensate for the departure of Harris.
Knight said it was a good test for the Tigers, ranked No. 9 in this week's AFCA Top 25.
"We had to mix and match," Knight said. "It's not always about the problem, but how you answer the problem."
Road block stops Reddies
Henderson State's 30-24 loss to Northwestern Oklahoma State in Alva., Okla., was surprising and significant because it marked the first time Coach Scott Maxfield's team lost a GAC game in Oklahoma, and it marked the Henderson's second GAC road loss since 2011.
The Reddies (1-2, 1-2 GAC) trailed 14-0, led 17-14 and 24-17, but momentum turned late in the third quarter when Henderson faced first and 10 at the Rangers' 11 but ended up settling for a field goal.
NWOSU outgained Henderson 190-62 in the fourth quarter and 490-415 for the game.
"We couldn't get it done when we needed to," Maxfield said. "We had seven three-and-outs. It's hard to swallow."
UAM dominates, loses
Arkansas-Monticello Coach Hud Jackson said he's seen this act before -- the Boll Weevils dominating the line of scrimmage and the stat sheet but not the scoreboard -- but maybe never to this extend in his eight seasons.
UAM (1-2, 1-2 GAC) held East Central (1-2, 1-2) to minus-36 yards rushing, outgained the Tigers 503-177, won the first-down matchup 26-9, and lost -- 29-27.
"They never sustained any kind of drive, ever," Jackson said. "It was just ... I don't know how to explain it."
Six turnovers led to the Boll Weevils' undoing, and East Central converted them into 23 points, two touchdowns coming after Cole Sears' interceptions in the first and fourth quarters.
The first interception, in the opening seconds, put East Central at the UAM 3 and turned into a touchdown. Sears' second interception was returned 30 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
This and that
Arkansas teams went 4-2 in matchups with Oklahoma teams, all occurring Oklahoma. This week, all the Oklahoma teams come to Arkansas. ... Two of the Arkansas victories (Harding 42, Southwest Nazarene 0; Arkansas Tech 31, Oklahoma Baptist 7) came in games that started at 1 p.m. All the other kickoffs were at 6 p.m. ... OBU (9), Harding (t-19) and SAU (21) all moved up in the AFCA Top 25 coaches poll ... OBU defensive back Airric Parker was named the GAC Defensive Player of the week for his role in the Tigers' 32-16 victory over SOSU in Durant. Parker totaled 12 tackles, but the big play occurred late in the first quarter when he intercepted a pass in the SOSU end zone to pull OBU into a 7-7 tie. Parker was also credited with 3 pass breakups. ... Henderson State punter Angel Esparza averaged 39.8 yards on 10 punts in the Reddies' 30-24 loss to NWOSU in Alva to earn Special Teams Player of the Week honors. Five of Esparzas' punts were downed inside the NWOSU 20.
Sports on 09/21/2018
Print Headline: SAU fine with road challenge