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Arkansas State postpones home football game against Tulsa due to COVID-19 concerns



The Arkansas State Red Wolves will now host the University of Central Arkansas Bears this Saturday in Jonesboro.

The game was originally moved up a year, and then it was delayed three weeks.

The Bears (2-2) and Red Wolves (1-2) will face off at 2:30 p.m. Saturday on ESPN3. The in-state rivals will be playing for the 26th time, but first since 2016 when the FCS Bears upset the FBS Red Wolves 28-23 on the same field. UCA went on to a 10-3 season and a second-round appearance in the FCS Playoffs. ASU tied for the Sun Belt Conference championship and beat Central Florida in the Cure Bowl.

 “We’re very excited to be playing Arkansas State,’ said UCA head coach Nathan Brown. “This was a game that got scheduled very quickly in August, and we’re fortunate that Arkansas State was willing to put us on the schedule. We had them scheduled in a normal contract year for next year, so to get this done is definitely a blessing for us in a weird year and having to fill an independent schedule. And especially being so close to Conway, that’s a big deal for us.’

The Bears, ranked 10th/11th in the FCS polls, are coming off a tough 39-28 loss at No. 1 North Dakota State last Saturday. The Bears led the three-time defending national champions as last as the 10:35 mark of the fourth quarter before falling to the Bison, who have claimed eight of the past nine FCS national titles.

“If anyone was in attendance or watched the game, we led for 28 minutes against a team that has won 38 straight games,’ said Brown. “And feel like coming home, (we) could have or should have won the game. So there’s a lot of frustration involved with that. But I learned that we’re not far behind. Our kids have bought into what we’re trying to coach and teach and what we’re trying to accomplish here. So much grit, so much poise, so much effort involved. Where we may have lacked talent wise in comparison to them, I thought we made up for it with talent in other areas.

“If you want to be the best, you need to go see and witness the best. And if that’s the best the FCS has to offer _ which they are, they’ve proven that _ then I like where we’re at and where we’re going. And I think we’ll be there soon.’

Now the Bears must turn their attention from the best in the FCS to one of the best in the Sun Belt Conference over the past decade. The Red Wolves, who have played in nine consecutive bowl games dating to 2011, will be UCA’s second of three FBS opponents on this COVID-19-affected schedule in 2020. The teams were originally supposed to renew their rivalry next season in Jonesboro, but will now play in consecutive years for the first time since 1996-97.

UCA lost 45-35 to its first FBS opponent UAB back on Sept. 3 at Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala. The Blazers are 3-1 and receiving votes in the Top 25 polls. Their only loss was to Top 10 Miami. Arkansas State is 1-2 with a huge 35-31 win over Big 12 Kansas State on Sept. 12, and losses to Memphis (37-24) in the season opener and Coastal Carolina (52-23) last Saturday.

“We know what Arkansas State has the caliber of being,’ said Brown. “I’ve heard Coach (Blake) Anderson say that they just didn’t play to the best of the abilities at Coastal Carolina on Saturday. I don’t think that’s indicative of what Arkansas State football’s talent is right now. I think they are one of the top talent-wise programs in the Sun Belt Conference, and they’ve proven that year in and year out. They are a perennial bowl team every year. They’re always competing for a Sun Belt championship the last few weekends of the season.

“And we know what kind of coach Coach Anderson is, the consistency he’s brought to that program. We expect nothing less. It’s another opportunity for our program to play against an FBS opponent. It will be our second FBS opponent of the year. We know it’s going to be tough.‘

Brown said much of the ASU preparation was done three weeks ago prior to the originally scheduled game.

“Obviously we had been half-way prepared for them a couple of weeks back before the game got pulled out from under us with the circumstances, postponed to this weekend. So we got a headstart on Sunday because we had a lot of our game plan already done from the prior week getting ready for them.

“So that’s been fortunate for our coaches. We’ve been able to go back and cross our Ts and dot our Is and make sure we like what we had, and then obviously just add to the mix after watching them play another game last weekend. That was good to have  under our belt.

“And the big thing for our program and for us is to continue to get better at us. I talk about that to our players every single day. My goal for us this week, coming off a tough loss at North Dakota State on Saturday, is not letting that game beat us two weeks in a row. Again, we know the challenge is just as great this week going to Jonesboro, we know what we’re about to go into.’

ASU’s program has Brown’s respect, and has for some time.

‘It’s going to be a tough atmosphere and a tough team that’s looking for another win,’ he said. “They’ve obviously proved that they can play with the big dogs by beating Kansas State earlier this year. And they (KSU) have proven to be a really good team, beating Oklahoma and Texas Tech since that loss to ASU.

“So we know that coming off an emotional loss, and playing our hearts and our guts out, really feeling like we had a shot to win at the three-time defending champion North Dakota State, we don’t want that to beat us twice. Because when you lose an emotional game like that, sometimes that can carry baggage with it moving forward. So it’s our job as coaches to get our players ready and mentally focused toward Arkansas State. Again, it’s not hard to get our guys focused and ready for a team the caliber of Arkansas State.’

Brown said he is anxious to see his team against another quality opponent in a 2020 season full of them.

“I think I know our team, and I think we’ve proven over and over the last few years, it doesn’t matter who we’re going to play, we’re going to be in the game and we’re going to fight until the last whistle,’ said Brown, in his third season as head coach at his alma mater. “We have a lot of tough opponents on our schedule this year, so no game is easy. We have to come out prepared and ready to battle every Saturday. This week will be no different against a very tough Arkansas State program.’

“But I also think we’re looking forward to the challenge.’

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