University of Central Arkansas Coach Nathan Brown has no problem at all remembering exactly what happened the last time the Bears faced Arkansas State University nearly four years ago.
His memories and descriptions about that 2016 encounter are so vivid and clear, he can literally run down how UCA scored the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter and what the Bears were able to do on defense late to pull off the upset 28-23 victory over the eventual Sun Belt Conference co-champions.
At 2:30 p.m. Saturday, he'll get a chance to stash more eventful moments from the UCA-ASU rivalry into his memory bank when the two meet for the 26th time.
It's not often that two of the state's four football-playing Division I teams face one another, but Brown believes both UCA and ASU are relishing the occasion.
"You're talking about two prominent universities in Arkansas," Brown said. "To play the sport of football at the same time against each other is a huge deal for this state. I think it's an opportunity to showcase what this state's talent is for football. A lot of high school programs tune into game's like this because both recruit this state really heavily and obviously want the opportunity to continue to do that.
"I think there's a lot of ramifications to this game, though. It's not the end all be all for either team, but it is a great opportunity in the middle of the year to showcase both programs inside the state's border."
The outcome of the game may not have a bearing on anything either does for the remainder of the season, but the significance 0f it will linger for years because of how it came about.
UCA and ASU, which will meet for the fifth time since 1947, are also set to face off next year. Because the schools had open dates available on their schedules after a number of games were canceled due to covid-19, both agreed to meet this season as well.
This season's game was originally supposed to be played Sept. 19, but after ASU was unable to put together a complete two-deep depth chart at one of its position groups, the game was rescheduled for Saturday.
"I think our kids have done a good job refocusing their attention to Arkansas State," Brown said. "We're in such a unique year where two and a half weeks ago, we were preparing for these guys, and it didn't happen because of the circumstances that were happening at ASU in their program. But I think our guys, especially coming off a tough loss to North Dakota State, have shifted their energy and effort toward the task at hand, which is to try to beat another FBS opponent."
The focus will again be shifted to Centennial Bank Stadium in Jonesboro, but the overall atmosphere for the in-state showdown will look nothing like it did in the teams' previous meeting.
A crowd of more than 28,000 watched as UCA got its first victory over ASU since 1937. However, attendance for the 2020 edition will be less than half of that. The capacity for the game will be 12,000 due to a socially distanced seating plan to comply with coronavirus guidelines.
But Brown isn't expecting the intensity of the game to be any different than what it was the last time they met. If anything, it'll be ratcheted up a notch or two because of the circumstances, and that's saying a lot considering the battle the teams waged on Sept. 24, 2016.
"First of all, ASU was very, very talented that year," said Brown, who was UCA's offensive coordinator at that time. "Nothing came easy for us, especially on offense. We really had to work hard just to run the football. It was one of those games where we really had to play good football to have a chance to win."
There were three lead changes in the first quarter alone, with ASU holding a 16-7 advantage after one. The Red Wolves led 16-13 at the half and took a 23-16 lead into the final period before the Bears' defense made plays at key moments to springboard UCA's comeback.
Back-to-back turnovers by ASU led to consecutive touchdown drives in the fourth quarter, including the one that wound up leading to the game-winning score. Trailing 23-22, UCA's Jaylon Lofton recovered a fumble at the Bears' 14-yard line. Eleven plays later, quarterback Hayden Hildebrand threw an 18-yard touchdown to Brandon Cox to put UCA up with 6:26 left in the game.
"I think [Hildebrand] made some unscripted plays with his legs, just kept his eyes down field and made some good throws throughout the game," Brown explained. "And really, the last play that we scored on to take the lead was the same type of situation. He moved around in the pocket, scrambled to his right and was able to make a good throw to Brandon Cox in the back right corner of the end zone.
"Again, we had to play good football to win, and I don't see it being any different this year because ASU is the same type of team now as they were then."
The Bears also got an interception on ASU's next drive to stop a potential score. The Red Wolves later drove to UCA's 35 on their final possession but ran out of time.
Brown watched intently weeks ago when the Red Wolves went to Manhattan, Kan., and shocked Kansas State 35-31. But the Red Wolves, like the Bears, are coming off a loss in their last game, and he expects ASU to be ready to bounce back, particularly in their home opener.
"It is their first home game and with that, there's going to be adrenaline and excitement," he said. "There be a lot of juice behind them, and it'll get them excited. We'll have to guard against that, but just their overall talent is gonna be a challenge.
"They're a really talented Sun Belt team. They've got a skill on offense, and on defense, they don't lose the team speed battle very often. So we've got to be ready in all aspects if we're going to have a chance to do what we did the last time we played them."
CENTRAL ARKANSAS AT ARKANSAS STATE
WHEN 2:30 p.m. Saturday
WHERE Centennial Bank Stadium, Jonesboro
RADIO KUCA-FM, 91.3 in Conway; KKPT-FM, 94.1 in Central Arkansas
RECORDS Central Arkansas 2-2; Arkansas State 1-2
COACHES Nathan Brown (17-11 in third season at Central Arkansas and overall); Blake Anderson (48-32 in seventh season at Arkansas State and overall)
SERIES UCA leads 13-10-2
LAST MEETING UCA took a 28-23 decision on the road in 2016.