The Game: The East Central University football team will hit the road for the first time in 2013, as they travel to Magnolia, Ark., to face Southern Arkansas, Saturday, Sept. 14 at 6 p.m. at Wilkins Stadium.
The Broadcast: ECU’s radio home for Tiger football in 2013 is Ada’s KXFC, 105.5, FM ‘The X-Factor’. Mike Manos returns to broadcast the games for his 17th consecutive season. Manos has worked 170 Tiger games since taking over the play-by-play duties in 1997.
The Coverage: Fans who can’t be at the game can find links to live stats, live video and the KXFC radio broadcast on ECUTigers.com. Go to the football schedule page. You can also download the KXFC radio app for your smartphone by searching ‘105.5 the X Factor.’
The Series: The Tigers and the Muleriders have battled on 14 previous occasions; with SAU holding a slight 8-6 lead overall. However, the series is tied at three when played in Magnolia, Ark. The series was renewed in 2011 when both teams joined the Great American Conference. Before that the series had been idle since 1998, with the first game in the all-time series being played in 1953. This is the first game in Magnolia since the teams joined the GAC and the first on the road for the Tigers since 1998.
Scouting Southern Arkansas: The Muleriders head into their home opener with a 0-1 record after dropping a close 50-56 game at Southeastern Oklahoma State in the opening weekend of GAC action. SAU was picked to finish second in the GAC in 2013, partially because they return 40 players from 2012, including 20 offensive players.
So far this season, the Muleriders are a passing team. SAU tallied 413 yards in the air and 228 on the ground against Southeastern. Tyler Sykora was 25-of-58, with three interceptions and four TD’s for the game. The Muleriders defended against the pass and rush evenly, allowing 251 rushing yards and 271 passing yards.
SAU had more offensive yards in their opening game (641 to 522), but threw three interceptions and was forced into three fumbles. The big difference in the scoring came when the Muleriders were in the red zone. SAU converted on 75 percent of its red zone attempts, while Southeastern converted on 83 percent (all TD’s).
Mark Johnson was the top rusher for SAU, with 139 yards on 23 attempts and two TD’s. Chris Terry was the favorite selection for Sykora, with 10 catches for 247 yards and three touchdowns. Quan Warren was the top producer on defense, with nine (7-2) tackles and an interception.
Against the Muleriders: ECU struggled with inconsistencies on offense and defense last season against SAU and fell 0-19. The Tigers earned just five first downs, recorded 123 yards of total offense and gave up 477 yards of total offense. The ECU defense forced and recover three fumbles during the game, but the offense threw four interceptions and held possession for just 19:24.
Redshirt freshman Spencer Bond was 6-of-18 passing for 70 yards and ran for an additional 22 yards. Junior Fred Gaines led the defensive charge, with 14 (10-4) tackles and an interception.
Defense Producing Offense: Junior Qumain Black had an outstanding first game of the season for the Tigers and was named the GAC Defensive Player of the Week for his efforts.
Black intercepted a pair of passes against Arkansas-Monticello. He returned the second interception 80 yards for the final touchdown of the game. In the first quarter, he returned his first interception 58 yards to the five-yard line that led to the second touchdown of the game. He also added a 40-yard kick return to finish with 178 all-purpose yards.
Todd’s Turn: Last season Justin Todd was behind Titus Mobley on the depth chart. This year he may be behind JoJo Snell, but he has already made a spot for himself on the field. In the first game of the year, Todd doubled the number of touchdowns he had scored in his career and recorded more yards than he had in 2012 combined. Todd had eight rushes for 97 yards (85 yards in 2012) and tallied two touchdowns (1 TD in 2011) all in the first half.
The JoJo Express: Junior transfer JoJo Snell had an impressive first game for the Tigers and accomplished it all in the first half of action. Snell exploded out of the pack for 101 rushing yards and 11 receiving yards. Snell averaged 6.3 yards per rush and had long runs of 45 yards, while scoring a TD.
Coaches Show: Every Monday night, starting Sept. 9, fans are encouraged to come to Rib Crib in Ada for the weekly Coaches Show on 105.5 the X-Factor. Each week coaches from all 13 sports will be on hand to talk about the latest news from their teams. Fans will be able to tweet in questions to @ECUTigersCoach or ask them in person. Each week will feature different coaches and food specials.
Tigers Picked Fifth in GAC Poll: This year the league’s head coaches have picked ECU to finish fifth (65 points). Henderson State was picked as the top team in the league (100 points/10 first-place votes), with Southern Arkansas (85/1), Harding (83) and Ouachita Baptist (73) rounding out the spots above the Tigers in the poll. Southeastern (49), Southwestern (47), Arkansas Tech (37), Arkansas-Monticello (31), Northwestern and Southern Nazarene (17) fill out the remainder of the poll.
New Season; New Field: Besides the new faces on the field, the team will be competing on a new surface, as the natural grass that had been at Norris Field for over 80 years was replaced with turf by the FieldTurf Company. The $880,300 facelift was completed in late April.
Gaines Garnering Pre-Season Honors: Senior Fred Gaines claimed three 2013 pre-season honors. Gaines was named to the 2013 D2Football.com Pre-Season All-America Second Team, the 2013 USA College Football Pre-Season Division II All-America First Team and the 2013 Beyond Sports Network Pre-Season All-America Second Team. He had a strong junior season for the Tigers in 2012. The safety was a 2012 Daktronics Super Region #3 Second Team Defensive selection after leading the Tigers and the Great American Conference with seven interceptions, for 80 yards. He also added 63 (46-17) tackles and three pass break-ups in 2012.
Gaines was also honored as an All-GAC First Team Selection as a safety in 2012. The Fresno, Calif., native is one of nine players from the GAC honored by Beyond Sports Network.
Black Gaining Attention: Junior Qumain Black was named to the 2013 USA College Football Pre-Season Division II All-America honorable mention team. Black was also a strong defensive presence for ECU as a sophomore in 2012. The All-GAC Honorable Mention tallied 51 total tackles (30-21), two tackles-for-loss, five pass breakups and two forced fumbles. One on his forced fumbles resulted in a recovery and touchdown for 35 yards. The defensive back also added three interceptions for 29 yards and returned six kickoffs for 119 yards.
Offensive Consistency: The 2012 version of the ECU offense struggled to find consistency early in the season, but over the last three games emerged as a strong force. The good news for the Tigers is that eight of the offensive starters from a year ago are returning, including sophomore quarterback Spencer Bond.
Bond earned the starting quarterback position four games into the 2012 season and made the most of his new spot. He went 94-189-10 in passing, with eight touchdowns. Bond also added seven rushing touchdowns and rushed 86 times for 340 yards.
From the Playing Field to Coaching: The majority of the ECU coaching staff consists of familiar names for Tiger football fans. Seven of the current coaches were members of the ECU football program as collegiate athletes. Rashad Jackson, Chad Roark, Josh Phillips, Chris Espinoza, Brian Gonzalez, Dustin Lasell and Tyler McGrew have all worn an orange and black uniform before moving to a leadership role.
Seeking Winning Season Consistency: For the past two seasons the Tigers have had winning seasons, with an 8-3 mark in 2011 and a 6-5 record in 2012. It is the first time since 2000-01 that the Tigers have had back-to-back winning seasons (6-5/6-4). A winning season in 2013 would mark the first time since 1991-93 that ECU had three-straight winning seasons. In 1991 the Tigers went 5-4-1, 1992 was 6-3 and 1993, the National Championship season, had a 10-3 record.
Up Next: The Tigers return home for a match-up with Ouachita Baptist, Saturday, Sept. 21 at Norris Field. Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. and will be the last home game before homecoming (Oct. 5).