Central Arkansas’ rare air show coming to Catawba

By Mike London, The Salisbury Post The Bears of the University of Central Arkansas flew into North Carolina yesterday and expect to continue racking up frequent-flyer miles in today’s 1 p.m. NCAA Division II first-round playoff game against Catawba at Shuford Stadium. Central Arkansas (9-2) throws footballs as often as 3-year-olds throw tantrums.The Bears are the No. 1 passing team in D-II with 362.2 yards per game. And that means Catawba corners Jamel Jackson and Ryan Norman and safeties Jemonte Battle and Corey Reese are going to be exhausted by 3:30. Catawba head coach David Bennett just hopes that foursome is also going to be exalted. He’s hoping they can intercept a few aerials from UCA quarterbacks Brian Stallworth and Andy Rogers. “Our defensive backs can really cover,” said positive-thinking Catawba’s veteran linebacker Shawn McBride. “They’ve got experience. I think they’ll make plays for us.” McBride, a linebacker who’s tackling technique is as smooth as his shaved head, says UCA’s offensive approach reminds him most of Presbyterian, which annually boasts the SAC’s top passing attack. “The difference,” he said, “is that UCA has a quarterback (Stallworth) that can get outside.” Bennett confirms that Stallworth, who threw for 416 yards and three TDs last week, presents serious problems. “Stallworth’s 6-foot-2, he can run and he’s got a cannon,” he said. Adding to the pressure on a Catawba defense that is ranked third nationally is the fact that UCA has run the ball well at times. That explains why the Bears are ranked second nationally with 557.4 yards of offense per game and are listed as the No. 4 team in scoring with 44.2 ppg. The Bears have racked up over 500 yards seven times. UCA, located in Conway, is ranked 14th. It came out of nowhere to make the D-II playoffs for the first time. It impressed pollsters enough to make the South Region field, despite being outscored 33-28 by Arkansas Tech’s Wonder Boys in its final regular-season game. UCA’s only other loss was as impressive as most wins.The Bears led unbeaten Valdosta State by 31-7 at halftime before eventually falling 42-34. Even though it’s a newcomer to D-II postseason fun, UCA has tradition. It made the national playoffs a number of times in the NAIA ranks before moving up to D-II. It’s last NAIA playoff appearance was in 1992. Ironically, it’s first NAIA playoff outing in 1976 came an hour or so up I-85 at Elon. The key to UCA’s return to glory has been head coach Clint Conque (pronounced Conk), who arrived at UCA in December of 1999. Prior to taking over at UCA, Conque was the offensive coordinator at Louisiana Tech, where, among other things, he engineered an upset of Alabama. Conque’s QB when he rolled the Tide was Stallworth. Stallworth, now a graduate student, followed his old coach to UCA as did roughly a dozen more Louisiana Tech players. A glance at the Bears’ roster also reveals D-I transfers from USC, Tulsa, UNLV, Arkansas and Utah State. So it’s easy to see how UCA swiveled from a dismal 3-8 in Conque’s first year to beating defending national champ Delta State 23-7 this season. “UCA is very, very talented,” said Bennett. “They’ve got lots of Division I transfers. They have a lot of new people this year, but it’s not like these are new, young kids. NOTES: Catawba receiver Ced Squirewell says the Indians are going in thinking business as usual. “We’re not going to change anything,” he said. “We’ll be all right.” ... The winner plays the survivor of the Valdosta-Fort Valley State contest next Saturday in the South finals. ... Catawba offensive coordinator Jamie Snider says it’s a huge plus for UCA to be doing the flying instead of Catawba. “Most of our kids have never been on a plane,” said Snider. “They might’ve had some big eyes.” ######

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