Southern Arkansas University football players had their heads hanging a few weeks ago when the lost to unbeaten Ouachita Baptist University. That setback cost the Muleriders a possible share of the Great American Conference Championship.
Still, the Muleriders were expected to qualify for the NCAA Division II playoffs with a win at the University of Arkansas-Monticello. It didn’t happen, the Boll Weevils winning on the final play of the game.
“It was disappointing, but I don’t believe you can feel bad about winning eight games, possibly nine,” said SAU coach Bill Keopple. “I can count on one hand the times they’ve won more than eight games at Southern Arkansas.”
Despite losing three of their last five games, the Muleriders finished third in the GAC, and will be the host team in Saturday’s 2018 Agent Barry Live United Bowl at Arkansas High’s Razorback Stadium. SAU’s opponent will be Missouri Western State University of the Midwest Intercollegiate Athletic Association.
“This is an important game for us,” said Keopple. “If we get nine wins, it has happened only five times in the modern history of SAU football. The school has never won a postseason game either. They did beat the Mexican All-Stars one year in Mexico City. I’m not coming out of this bowl game a downer, no matter how it goes. Our program is on solid ground.”
SAU first to play in Live United Bowl twice
SAU is the first school to make two appearances in the Live United Bowl, having lost two years ago in a rainstorm to Texas A&M Univerity-Kingsville.
Styles will be contrasting, but season statistics similar when the Muleriders and Griffons clash. SAU likes to throw the football, led by 4-year starting quarterback Barrett Renner. The lanky southpaw completed 222 of 330 passes in 2018 for 2,804 yards and 21 touchdowns. He rewrote the school’s recordbook over his career.
Renner’s favorite targets are seniors Karonce Higgins and Jared Lancaster. Higgins, like Renner, was All-GAC, after catching 66 passes for 1,083 yards and 9 TDs. Lancaster has 49 receptions for 530 yards and 4 TDs.
Muleriders’ running game not up to par
The Muleriders’ running game wasn’t what the coaching staff had hoped it would be. Senior Lorenza Alexander leads the team with 625 yards and 7 TDs. Junior SirCharles Perkins of Pittsburg, Texas, had 413 yards in 4 TDs, while senior Keiandre Purifoy rushed for 315 yards and 4 TDs.
In comparison, the Griffons have three backs with more rushing yards than SAU’s Alexander. Quarterback Dom Marino has rushed for 644 yards and 5 TDs, while passing for another 1,606 yards and 8 TDs. James Bailey Jr. leads MWSU with 661 yards and 9 TDs, and Shamar Griffith has 631 yards and 4 TDs. Marino’s top receivers are Keylan Mack with 37 catches for 444 yards and 2 TDs, and Elijah Cunningham with 22 receptions for 232 yards.
“It’s going to come down to whether we can stop their running game,” said Keopple. “Offensively, it depend on how we protect the quarterback, and get the ball spread around the field like we want to. We’re excited to be playing somebody outside the GAC.”
Four Texarkana-area players are expected to see action for the Muleriders. They are linebacker DeMarcus Pegue, defensive end Kendrix McCann, defensive back La’Montrick Turner, and special teams performer Jimmie Houston. Pegue has played in all of SAU’s games this season with 34 tackles, 3 1/2 sacks and an interception.