Muleriders face biggest test in Murphy USA Classic against unbeaten Ouachita Baptist

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Defensive lineman Antonio Washington (99) of Marshall, Texas, leads Southern Arkansas' defense Saturday against unbeaten Ouachita Baptist in the Murphy USA Classic in El Dorado, Ark.


EL DORADO, Ark. – One team’s dream will be alive, another could likely disappear Saturday when fourth-ranked and unbeaten Ouachita Baptist University (8-0) plays Southern Arkansas University (7-1).

Both teams are dueling with Harding University and Henderson State for the Great American Conference championship, and a berth in the NCAA Division II playoffs. The unbeaten Tigers and Muleriders faceoff at 2 p.m. in the Murphy USA Classic at Memorial Stadium.

“This game is as big as any game we’ve played since I’ve been at SAU,” said Mulerider mentor Bill Keopple. “It ranks with the biggest.”

Former Pleasant Grove standout T.J. Cole.

Unbeaten Tigers favored over SAU

OBU is considered the favorite, having already beaten Harding (7-1). The Tigers are the defending GAC champions. The Muleriders have been knocking on the title door the past two seasons. They lost a shootout to the Tigers in the Murphy USA Classic a year ago, falling out of the playoff picture with a heart-breaking loss to UA-Monticello.

Statistically, the two teams are similar. Keopple believes the outcome Saturday will be determined at the line of scrimmage.

“We’ve got to win the battle at the line of scrimmage,” said Keopple. “We’ve got to take care of the ball, but that battle up front will be the key. OBU is such a sound, disciplined football team. We have to match that, and be a very disciplined football team. Those are the keys.”

The Tigers’ defense is allowing only 12.8 points per game, while the OBU offense is averaging 30.25 points. Ouachita’s leading defenders include Little Rock linebacker Austin Guymon (54 tackles), Junction City’s Keandre Evans (50 tackles), and Warren’s Hayden Lassiter (4 interceptions).


Sophomore quarterback leads OBU offense

Sophomore quarterback Brayden Brazeal of England, Ark., is enjoying an incredible season. He is completing 78 percent (107 of 137) of his passes, with 9 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. His favorite receiver has been Little Rock senior Allie Freeman, with 66 receptions for 590 yards and 4 TDs.

OBU’s ground game is a three-headed monster with Sheridan senior Brockton Brown, Texarkana sophomore T.J. Cole and Shreveport’s Shun’cee Thomas. Brown leads the pack with 632 yards and 14 TDs. Cole has 410 yards and 4 TDs, while Thomas has 401 yards and 3 TDs.

Southern Arkansas’ numbers match up well with the Tigers.

Quarterback Hayden Mallory, a junior from Gonzalez, La., has completed 98 of 152 passes for 1,478 yards and 13 TDs. His favorite receivers have been Bossier City senior Jared Lancaster (23-406-5) and Magnolia (Texas) sophomore Micah Small (17-370-2).

Muleriders’ offense features balanced attack

Red-shirt freshman Kor’Davion Washington leads the Muleriders’ running game with 764 yards and 6 TDs. Senior Sir Charles Perkin of Pittsburg, Texas, has 427 yards and 4 TDs. Freshman O.B. Jones of Tatum, Texas, has been SAU’s biggest weapon at the goalline.

SAU’s defense is led by Shreveport linebacker Malik Preston (44 tackles), Texarkana’s DeMarcus Pegue (40 tackles, 1 interception), and junior lineman Antonio Washington of Marshall, Texas.

“Washington is one of the best defensive linemen in the conference,” said Keopple. “Pegue, Mallory and Kor’Davion have really played well for us this season.”

The Muleriders play at Henderson next week in another GAC showdown. Three more wins and SAU will be making its first national playoff appearance in more than 20 years.