Last year, freshman Hunter Leppert threw for 345 yards in his debut as Arkansas-Monticello scored 28 points in the fourth quarter to beat Arkansas Tech 38-31 in the opening game of the season.
This year’s game will completely different from last year’s, though, as a lot has happened since the first game of Hud Jackson’s tenure at UAM.
The Boll Weevils (1-6, 0-5 Great American Conference) are searching for their first conference win this season and the first road victory in the two years Jackson has been at the university. Arkansas Tech (4-3, 2-2) started the year off 1-3 but has rattled off three straight wins to move to fourth in the conference standings.
“They are playing really well after starting the season slow. They got it going,” UAM coach Hud Jackson said. “They got more experience and a different quarterback and he has made a big difference.”
Senior Tanner Marsh is the Wonder Boys’ quarterback and he has played a big reason in why the team is starting to ascend in the Great American Conference.
Marsh is second only to Henderson State’s Kevin Rodgers in passing yards per game with 274.3. He has completed 60.9 percent of his passes for 1,920 yards and 12 touchdowns. Marsh has thrown nine interceptions, though.
Marsh also leads the Wonder Boys in rushing with 332 yards and five touchdowns on 61 carries.
“He’s a senior who is just getting more comfortable with each game,” Jackson said.
Marsh is surrounded by a talented group of receivers. Cassius Washington has caught three of his touchdowns and Dwight Brooks and John Simpson each have two touchdown receptions.
“He has a good supporting cast and when they get into the red zone, they have a different mentality,” Jackson said. “They are playing well on defense, their kickoff return is one of the best. There are a lot of things to be concerned about.”
UAM has had its own problems at quarterback and Leppert will not be playing in this game after suffering a season-ending knee injury a few weeks ago. Backups Jacob Lennox (ankle) and Canden Dallas (shoulder) were also lost for the season.
Senior Damon Wicker has taken over and has thrown eight interceptions and only one touchdown in the last three games.
“Injury has taken its toll, but we are not going to lay back,” Jackson said. “This is the same group that works hard and they are not quitters. This experience will lead to good things for our younger group.”
Last week, freshman wide receiver Trey Taylor took some snaps as the quarterback and that will continue this week, Jackson said.
“We are working both of them in,” he said. “Damon is a physical guy, so you have to have someone ready to go. Trey will get some snaps and you have to go with what you got.”
Taylor played quarterback for his high school team — Evangel Christian Academy in Shreveport, La.
Last week, Taylor went 3-of-7 passing for 22 yards and two interceptions in last week’s loss to Ouachita Baptist. He also rushed for 12 yards on five carries.
In order to have a chance against Arkansas Tech, the Boll Weevils have to cut down on all of the interceptions over the past couple of weeks.
“We can’t have the turnovers or give up big plays because good teams will take advantage of those,” Jackson said. “We just have to start finding some consistency.”
The biggest thing UAM needs, though, is a win — on the road or anywhere.
“It’s two years working (without a road win) and the players are aware of it,” he said. “We need a victory on the road, but we need a win period. It’s a different setting and feeling right now and a win is a win wherever we are.”