CONWAY — A lot will be on the line when the University of Central Arkansas Bears and the McNeese State Cowboys meet at 3 p.m. Saturday at First Security Field at Estes Stadium.
The game is the opening of Southland Conference play for both teams, and is the first telecast of the season for the Southland Television Network (KARZ Channel 42 in Little Rock.) The Bears and Cowboys will be competing for the annual “Red Beans & Rice Bowl” trophy, a piece of hardware UCA has won four of five times since its inception in 2008.
Both teams enter Saturday with Top 15 rankings in the FCS polls. UCA, the defending SLC co-champion, is 11th in one poll and 14th in the other, while McNeese occupies the same spots in reverse.
If that wasn’t enough drama, the Bears are defending a perfect 12-0 record at home on “The Stripes” at Estes Stadium. UCA has actually won 13 consecutive home games, dating back to the final game of the 2010 season.
Oh, and the last four games between the Bears and Cowboys have all been decided by four points or less, including last year’s 27-26 victory for the Bears, which came on a last-second, 47-yard field goal by Eddie Camara in Lake Charles, La.
“We are extremely excited to be playing at home,’ said UCA head coach Clint Conque, who was an assistant coach at McNeese from 1987-89. “It’s been a long time, since late August. We certainly enjoy the opportunity to play at home. And this will be the first of five home games of the final eight we have this year.
“Hopefully we can play well and continue to build some momentum, get our community and our student population excited and involved with our team. Because they really inspire us.’
UCA (2-2) enters off an open date, which followed a 17-13 victory at Missouri State on Sept. 21. McNeese (4-1) lost 41-6 at No. 5 Northern Iowa last Saturday.
“As I told our team, there’s a lot to play for,’ said Conque. “There is the trophy, we’re defending a (Southland Conference) title. A lot of our juniors and seniors have never lost a home game here at Estes Stadium. And that’s something to play for.
“And more importantly, just a chance for our football team to get better, and hopefully, get started in conference play 1-0. Like I told them, the conference championship will not be decided Saturday, with a win or a defeat. But certainly to go 1-0 to start conference play would be huge, particularly playing a great program like McNeese State.’
Saturday’s game is also caps UCA Sports Hall of Fame Weekend on campus, with a pregame ceremony honoring the Class of 2013, as well the annual Band Day, featuring 14 Arkansas high school bands on campus to perform at halftime alongside the Bear Marching Band.