The headline is true today is it was on September 24th, 2016, when the 0-3 Red Wolves really needed a win, and the UCA Bears seemed like the right team to provide it. After all, the Bears were an undersized, under-resourced, under-talented FCS team to whom Arkansas State tossed a bone. It didn’t matter that UCA was playing incredibly good football in recent years, or that the program was beginning to see its players drafted into the NFL. What mattered was that the Red Wolves needed a victory, and we were willing to toss the Purple Bears into the sacrificial volcano. Because we were clearly cursed.
You remember the circumstances, right? Arkansas State opened the season at home and were meticulously manhandled by Toledo. Next, a bodybag murdering at the hands of Gus Malzahn and Auburn. The final indignity: an ugly loss to Utah State which featured more personal fouls than Red Wolves highlights.
Thank God we scheduled that UCA game! We needed the make-good game. Yes, the Red Wolves looked terrible to open the season, but Toledo, Auburn and Utah State is a pretty rough slate. Surely, the tough losses had hardened the team and forced some focus on the coaching staff. No more screwing around! Business time.
Three minutes into the game, the Red Wolves put up a business-like three points. No need to crush the Bears early. Hitting field goals in game-time situations is important experience before heading to conf–
Holy shit! The Bears ran a punt for a TD! Man, good thing we’re getting the kinks worked out of the special teams before facing somebody like Appalachian State! Besides, look, here’s a Hansen to Kendall Sanders TD and…okay, we missed the XP, but we didn’t miss the next one. Overall, solid quarter of play for Arkansas State. Business is good!
So then the Bears shutout the Red Wolves for the entire second quarter, in addition to tacking on a coupe field goals. Okay, y’all, time to open the Playbook to Page 2!
“We’re playing like shit,” said my brother, Rex Steele. Nonsense! This game is, like, a glorified scrimmage. We’re rotating guys out of position! We’re artificially creating challenges just for the opportunity to overcome them! You can’t count on a knave like Rex Steele to see the master plan! Did the Bears just kick another field goal? The Red Wolves red zone D is on it!
The stadium is quiet enough to hear Anderson flip to the second page of the playbook. Or maybe I just assumed he did, because inexplicably Justice Hanson connects with Cameron Echols-Luper for a 58 yard TD. We knew CE-L was gonna rock (now that he wasn’t punting anymore). God is in His heaven and all was right in the –
Aw, hell, touchdown UCA. No reason to panic. Red Wolves are up one, and the last I heard, all you needed was one point more than your opponent to win – even if you were supposed to crush that opponent to a sticky, purple paste! A win is a win! We’ll pick apart the game film tomorrow and isolate the areas where the team can imp–
Touchdown, Red Wolves!
Wait, I wasn’t paying attention. Touchdown, Bears! What the hell is this happy horse shit? UCA fans are in the corner of Centennial Bank Stadium, dancing and fist-pumping like they own the joint! How dare they. You’re a guest! Don’t they teach manners in Conway?
The Bears fail on the two point conversion, and two Red Wolves defenders are celebrating with fantastic flying chest bumps, as if Arkansas State isn’t down five with about six minutes remaining. Later, Rex Steele would say, “That’s when I knew we’d lost.” He was right, too.
Although it didn’t seem so at first. Because the Red Wolves were stuffing the ball down the Bears’ hairy throats! Blake Mack was balling, baby! One gain after another! Then Hansen’s pass was picked at the Bears 32 and that was it. Game over. Arkansas State had another possession, but no use reliving it. Red Wolves lost 28-23, and a season that was supposed to be absolute magic saw A-State winless four games deep into the season.
When I went to my car after the game, the engine refused to turn over. Dead battery.
Four years later, the Red Wolves really need to beat UCA. Again. Everything is different, but also, everything is also the same. Arkansas State is not 0-4, but losing 52-23 to Coastal Carolina feels like being 0-4.
Meanwhile, UCA is still an undersized, under-resourced FCS school that plays incredibly good football, coming into Jonesboro ranked 11th in the FCS. They’re all kinds of pretty good on both sides of the ball, which means the Red Wolves will have to dig deeper into the playbook and their souls to win.
I just hope my soul can handle it.