The Great American Conference season did not get off to a good start for the Arkansas-Monticello football team.
The Boll Weevils opened up the conference season at home against Harding last week, and the Bisons ran all over them 52-7.
The GAC does not get any easier, either, as UAM (1-2) travels to Ada, Okla., to play East Central, which finished third in the conference last year. Kickoff is at 6 p.m.
While it is only the second conference game for the Weevils, a loss to East Central could be devastating to the team’s GAC title hopes.
“It’s important that we go over there and try and get a win,” UAM coach Hud Jackson said. “We need to have this win. It’s important that we go there and get in the conference race or it will be a tough battle.”
East Central is in the same situation as UAM. The Tigers lost to No. 23-ranked Northwest Missouri State to start the year before beating Southern Nazarene.
But East Central dug a 13-0 hole to Southwestern Oklahoma State in its first GAC game and lost 13-10, putting the Tigers in the early cellar with the Weevils, Arkansas Tech and Southeastern Oklahoma State.
Last year, UAM traveled to East Central and lost 34-9, and the Weevils have not won a road game yet in Jackson’s two-year tenure with the team.
“I do think ECU will have the mentality of a tough loss and we need to keep them down the best we can,” Jackson said. “They feel like they have us at home and they are going to use all of that stuff against us. Use that we got whipped and haven’t won a road game.”
The biggest concern for the Weevils heading into the game is East Central’s defensive line — specifically defensive ends Armonty Bryant and Jason Catchings.
Last year, Catchings had a team-leading 13 sacks and Bryant was right behind him with 12.5. This season, Bryant already has 7.5 sacks and Catchings has 4.5.
“Those are two of the top players in our conference and both are NFL-type players,” Jackson said. “They are the backbone of their defense and they make everyone around them better. They are pretty special.”
This year, UAM has given up 22 sacks through three games. East Central has given up 29 sacks, which has made life tough on first-year starting quarterback Cody Miller, who only has two touchdown passes compared to eight interceptions. Miller has only completed 42.5 percent of his passes and and he threw four interceptions last week.
“I think he is a good quarterback, just been things that happen like bad decisions and pressure,” Jackson said. “Hopefully our defense can give him fits and cause some turnovers.”
UAM is led by Jamie Ward, who has five sacks. The team also gets linebacker Greg Wilson back from an injury this week, and he has 1.5 sacks this year. Defensive end Calvin Ursin returned last week from a knee injury and was All-GAC second team last year.
Linebacker Alex Black will miss the game, though, due to a knee injury.
The bottom line for Jackson going into this game is getting a much-needed conference win and staying in the hunt.
“There has to be a sense of urgency and we have to feel like our backs are against the wall,” Jackson said. “I think we have the guys that will come out fighting.”