UCA starts homestand against SEMO

Nathan Brown

After a delayed return from its last game, which saw players, coaches and staff return as late as 6 a.m. Central, the University of Central Arkansas football team will see plenty of home in October, starting today against Southeast Missouri State.

The No. 23 (FCS) Bears will play three home games this month, with their bye week coming the week of Oct. 21.

"That's huge, that's a big deal to us," UCA Coach Nathan Brown said. "An opportunity to protect The Stripes three times in the next four weeks is obviously something we're looking forward to."

Today's matchup against SEMO (1-3, 1-0 OVC-Big South) gives UCA (3-2, 2-0 UAC) a chance to win its third game in a row and avenge a nonconference loss a year ago.

Trailing 35-27 with 3:21 remaining in last season's game, UCA's drive mustered four yards on three plays, resulting in a punt.

That was the last time the Bears touched the ball as the Redhawks burned the final 2:39 for the win.

"[I] didn't feel like we played a very good game against them last year and still had a chance with the ball in our hands to go and tie the game," Brown said. "We left a lot of meat on the bone last year."

SEMO was selected as the preseason favorite for the Ohio Valley-Big South Conference. After a season-opening loss to Kansas State, 45-0, the Redhawks' last two losses have each come by three points.

While UCA arguably features the top running back room in FCS, SEMO features a sixth-year senior and its all-time rushing leader at the position.

Geno Hess, a 5-foot-8, 225 running back from Peoria, Ill., has amassed 4,365 rushing yards and 56 touchdowns in his time at SEMO. Since the 2020 season, Hess has averaged 5.8 yards per carry and 110 yards per game.

UCA junior running back ShunDerrick Powell is second in the nation in rushing yards (744) and rushing yards per game (148.8) and is first in yards per carry (10.2).

Hess and Powell were both named to the preseason Walter Payton Award watch list for the top running back in the FCS. Powell was a finalist for the award a year ago at North Alabama, while Hess was a finalist in both 2021 and 2022.

Fellow UCA running backs Darius Hale and Kylin James are providing an additional 86.2 rushing yards per game, with 6 touchdowns. James is also UCA's third-leading receiver with 206 yards on 20 catches.

In last season's game against SEMO, UCA's rushing attack was held to 16 yards, its fewest since 2018 when the Bears totaled 39 against Incarnate Word. This season, UCA is averaging 284.4 yards rushing yards per game as a team.

This will be the 17th meeting between the Bears and Redhawks. SEMO leads the all-time series 8-7-1. This will be its first trip to Conway in 38 years.

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