UAM hangs on for first victory

Narrow win on road is Jackson’s second away from Monticello

It certainly wasn’t easy, but the University of Arkansas at Monticello found a way to do at least three things Saturday night:
• Win 37-35 over Great American Conference opponent Northwestern Oklahoma State University;
• Win on the road at Alva, Okla., giving head coach Hud Jackson just his second road victory in his tenure at UAM; and
• Even its GAC record at 1-1, which is vitally important in a league that Jackson insists is anybody’s for the taking.
It’s just a shame for Jackson and offensive coordinator Kyle Shipp the Boll Weevils aren’t able to play the Rangers every week. In the last three seasons, junior quarterback Cole Sears has amassed 771 yards passing against NWOSU on 46 of 87 completions, with seven touchdowns and no interceptions.
The Hoxie native has also rushed for 122 yards on 30 carries and four scores during that time. And Saturday, he even threw in a 27-yard reception from freshman transfer wide receiver Tre Bruce. Accounting for all five Weevil touchdowns last weekend, Sears was named co-GAC Offensive Player of the Week for his efforts.
Simply, in Jackson’s words: “Cole Sears is special.”
But, to be honest, the 6-foot-3, 220-pounder had ample help—and UAM needed every last yard the skilled-position players at Sears’ disposal could muster. Senior All-American wide receiver Jalen Tolliver hauled in seven of Sears’ passes for 147 yards, his 10th 100-yard performance in Kelly Green and White.
While he has no touchdowns as of yet in 2017, Tolliver is just six away from tying and seven away from breaking one of UAM’s oldest offensive football school records—the 29 receiving touchdowns caught by Hugh Heflin from 1949-52.
The 6-3, 210-pound Rayville, La. product is nearing two other records, too. Tolliver now has 2,288 yards receiving as a Weevil, just 359 yards away from breaking Anthony Giovingo’s school mark of 2,646 yards from 1995-98. His seven receptions against Northwestern on Saturday gave him 137 for his career, just 58 catches from breaking the UAM record of 194, set by Jywin Ceasar from 2007-10.
“I thought our kids played hard,” Jackson said after the game. “Defensively, we still have to get off the field on third down. Northwestern Oklahoma is a good football team, and it was a huge road win.
“I thought our tight ends did great, the offensive line played well and our receivers played really well. Plus, we had some big turnovers. Our defense played hard and physical. Their receivers are really good.
“On the down side, our special teams were too inconsistent. We have to clean up kickoff coverage. I know I need to enjoy this win, but we have to get ready for next one.
“I’m very proud of our players. They’re very mature and businesslike. They know it’s time to focus on our next opponent. Our conference is wide open and we need to realize that.”
UAM will attempt to string together back-to-back wins for only the fifth time in Jackson’s seven years in Monticello when the Weevils host East Central University at 6 p.m. Saturday at Willis “Convoy” Leslie Cotton Boll Stadium.
Jackson began his UAM career with victories over Arkansas Tech University and Texas College in 2011; the Weevils accomplished that feat twice in 2013, over Southeastern Oklahoma State University and Northwestern, then later over Lindenwood University at Belleville, Ill. and Southern Nazarene University; and last fall, UAM defeated Ouachita Baptist University and ECU in back-to-back weeks.
Saturday’s ECU contest has been selected as the 2017 Parent and Family Appreciation Day. Parents and family members of UAM students will be guests of the university throughout the day.
The day’s events begin with a registration and reception from 2:15-3:15 p.m. in the Fine Arts Center and conclude with the UAM-ECU game. The Fred J. Taylor Library and Technology Center will be open from noon to 4 p.m. with the library’s Java City coffee shop offering half-price coffee. The UAM Bookstore will also open from 2-6 p.m. to allow students and family members to purchase memorabilia and souvenirs.
The registration and reception will allow family members to meet and visit with UAM faculty and receive free passes to both the pregame tailgate party and football game. From 2:30-5:30 p.m., the area around Weevil Pond will host free balloon creations, face painting, a free photo booth and children’s fingerprinting kits.
The UAM football team and marching band will be part of the traditional Walk of Champions through the tailgate area on the east side of Weevil Pond at 3:30 p.m. UAM Chancellor Karla Hughes will host a pregame tailgate cook-out for parents and family members beginning at 4 p.m.
Many in the big crowd expected for Saturday’s game will undoubtedly hope to watch the Weevils’ fast-paced offense play like it did in western Oklahoma last weekend. UAM ran 89 plays to only 63 for Northwestern and, while the Rangers outgained the Weevils 493-484, the visitors gained an impressive 227 yards on the ground, won the turnover battle 2-1 and cut down drastically on penalties (from nine for 117 yards in the season-opening loss to Southwestern Oklahoma State University to six for just 48 yards last weekend).
UAM got off to a good start behind two of Sears’ four rushing touchdowns—a two-yard run at 7:13 of the first quarter followed by a seven-yard jaunt at 12:38 of the second period.
If fact, those 13 points (sophomore placekicker Josh Marini had one point-after-touchdown blocked) gave the Weevils a lead they would never relinquish, although the game was in doubt until late in the fourth quarter.
Despite allowing a Northwestern touchdown fairly quickly after his second touchdown, Sears found senior transfer tight end Warren Leapheart wide open in the end zone to push the UAM advantage to 20-6. Sears then powered his way into the end zone again late in the first half to put the Weevils up comfortable—or so they must have thought—at intermission.
The Rangers were able to outscore UAM 29-10 in the second half but it seemed as if each time Northwestern would draw close, the Weevils would find a way to stop the hosts’ momentum.
A Marini 30-yard field goal with 7:21 remaining in the third quarter gave UAM its last comfortable lead but Northwestern would score three more times before UAM was able to run out the clock.
Sears put the capper on the win with his fourth TD on the ground, a four-yarder at the 10:53 mark of the fourth quarter to put UAM up 37-20 a help the Weevils withstand a serious surge from the Ranger offense.
In other GAC games, Arkansas Tech show it just might be the team to beat in 2017. The Wonder Boys, picked just sixth in the coaches’ preseason poll in August (UAM was picked eighth), defeated their second ranked opponent in as many weeks.
Validating a season-opening upset of then-No. 22 Southern Arkansas, Tech manhandled No.23 Henderson State 26-3—in Arkadelphia.  Two other teams remained undefeated as well.
Southeastern Oklahoma slipped past Oklahoma Baptist University 21-17 and Ouachita Baptist rolled over Southwestern Oklahoma 38-10. In what was supposed to be an early-season meeting of GAC giants, SAU kept Harding winless with a 35-24 decision in Magnolia.
Probably the biggest game, though, was the Southern Nazarene-East Central contest. Before the season even started, Southern Nazarene wasn’t given much of a chance of a win by some as it received the least amount of votes possible in the GAC preseason coaches’ poll.
The Crimson Storm visited Ada, Okla., though, and dropped ECU  33-30. It is the first time SNU has been .500 or better since joining Division II.

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