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Friday, October 3, 2003
Arkansas Tech seeks to improve to 3-0 in Gulf South play


LITTLE ROCK -- Arkansas Tech football coach Steve Mullins says his team demonstrates how numbers can be misleading.

Before the season started, Southern Arkansas, Central Arkansas or Harding would have been good bets to be 2-0 right now, but they are a combined 1-5.

The Wonder Boys (3-1, 2-0 Gulf South) were 4-7 last year and their offense ranks 11th in the league at 255.5 yards per game. But Arkansas Tech opened Gulf South play with a 34-23 win over Ouachita Baptist and it held on for a 10-9 victory over Harding last week.

"We just have a bunch of guys playing hard," Arkansas Tech coach Steve Mullins said. "You look at our statistics stacked up against everybody else and you would think we would be 0-4 instead of 3-1. But the kids fight hard and somehow found a way to win."

This week, Arkansas Tech seeks a 3-0 conference start at Arkadelphia against a Henderson State team that lost an 18-point lead and fumbled inside the West Georgia 5 in the final minute of a 38-35 loss.

Also on Saturday, Arkansas-Pine Bluff (2-3, 1-1 SWAC) starts the meat of its Southwestern Athletic Conference schedule on the road at No. 22 Southern. The Jaguars (4-0, 2-0) jumped into the poll this week after beating Alabama State 35-10 last week.

Alabama State beat the Golden Lions 24-22 two weeks ago.

In other Gulf South action, Ouachita Baptist (2-1, 1-1) travels to No. 2 Valdosta State (4-0, 2-0); Harding (1-2, 0-2) seeks to get its offense on track at West Alabama (2-2, 1-1); North Alabama (4-0, 2-0) faces a Southern Arkansas (3-1, 1-1) team still smarting from a close call against Valdosta; and Arkansas-Monticello (1-3, 0-2) seeks to continue Central Arkansas' (2-2, 0-2) misery.

Mullins has led the Wonder Boys to a 3-1 start with an offense that hasn't been very productive, but his defense has been stout. The Wonder Boys have forced a conference-high 14 turnovers and the team ranks third giving up 329 yards per game.

Last week, linebacker Cedric Flemons intercepted a pass with 7 seconds remaining to preserve the win over Harding. Defensive end and punter Tommy Edwards set a school record in the game with his 22nd career sack.

Edwards also kept the Bisons offense pinned in their own territory with a 47.8-yard average on eight punts, five of which landed inside the Harding 20.

That defense will be tested this week by a Henderson State offense that ranks No. 1 among Division II schools with 337.8 rushing yards per game.

"Their offensive is unique and by far the best one we've faced this year," Mullins said. "Anytime you lead the nation in rushing you've got to be doing something right. It just worries me to death because no one has stopped them and offensively, we can't get in a scoring contest with them."

OBU put the shackles on UCA's offense last week and this week the Tigers will look to do the same to Valdosta. The Bears didn't throw for a touchdown against OBU in a 43-28 loss. The Tigers broke the game open by scoring the final 16 points of the game.

Valdosta returned a Southern Arkansas fumble 97 yards with 4:51 remaining and then tacked on two touchdowns after that to turn a close game into a blowout. The Blazers, who average almost 400 yards per game, can score points in a hurry.

Harding entered the season with one of the deepest sets of skilled players in the conference, but the Bisons haven't had much success the past two weeks. The offense has been held to 12 points in home losses to North Alabama and Arkansas Tech.