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Pomp, pageantry and a meaningful game
Beyond the flurry of homecoming activity this weekend, the University of Central Arkansas’ football game is pretty big. It’s one of the benchmarks in history, not necessarily because of the opponent but of the significance if the Bears win.
A victory over Northwestern State on Saturday night will clinch the outright Southland Conference title for the Bears and an automatic berth in the 20-team NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoffs in which UCA appeared for the first time last season.
With a victory, UCA officials also believe the Bears have a good shot at a first-round bye in the playoffs and to host either a second-round game — or a first-round game if they don’t get the bye.
The Bears (6-2, 5-1) will finish the Southland Conference regular season with the regionally televised game. They have a bye week the next week, the last regular-season playing date in the conference. They will finish the regular season with a nonconference game at home the next Saturday against Eastern Illinois.
Sam Houston State and Southeastern Louisiana are the only other one-loss teams in the SLC. Each has two games remaining. Even if one of them lose (they still have each other to play), the Bears would win the conference because of head-to-head victories over both the Bearkats and the Lions.
Tom Burnett, Southland Conference commissioner, is expected to be in Estes Stadium on Saturday night with the trophy in his possession for a possible ceremony if the Bears defeat the Demons.
UCA coach Clint Conque realizes how significant the scene could be on homecoming night.
“I’ve told the players that you are not guaranteed to be in this position,” he said. “Alabama went through a stretch in which they were very average. LSU went through a long stretch in which they were very average. Every quality college football program in the country goes through periods of time that, for whatever reasons, they are not guaranteed to be playing for a conference championship in week 10 and they are not guaranteed postseason. We take this game very seriously.”
By David McCollum, LOG CABIN