The Arkansas Tech Wonder Boys (3-3, 3-2 Great American Conference) offense rushed for only 25 total yards and turned the ball over to the Southern Arkansas Muleriders (3-3, 3-3 GAC) four times in the first half of a 21-14 loss in Magnolia at Wilkins Stadium on Saturday night.
“I thought we would be able to run football going into the game, but SAU did good job of stopping it,” head coach Raymond Monica said. “You can’t be one dimensional and win.”
After initial three-and-out posessions from both teams, Tech drove 66 yards in five plays as junior quarterback Dennis Robertson connected with fellow junior Jerry Anderson on a 24-yard touchdown pass to gain a quick 7-0 lead with 9:58 remaining in the first.
Tech then forced a SAU turnover on downs, but on the Wonder Boy’s first down play junior running back Kelton Smith fumbled, and the Muleriders gained possession when senior linebacker Hayden Rybiski recovered the loose ball on Tech’s 25.
Again Tech’s defense caused a turnover on downs after stopping a 4th and 1-yard pass play short of the line of scrimmage. But again, Tech could not turn the opportunity into points and punted the ball back to SAU.
Each team then forced back-to-back turnovers when SAU’s Deion Williams and Tech’s Robertson both fumbled on successive possessions.
Taking over with prime real estate on Tech’s 20-yard line, the Muleriders scored on a first down, 20-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Si Blackshire to freshman running back Michael Nunnery to tie the game at 7-7 with 12:07 left in the second quarter.
SAU scored on its next possession as well after a 66-yard hookup from Blackshire to senior Deandre Jenkins set up a 3-yard touchdown catch by senior Zikerious Ware to put the Muleriders ahead 14-7 at the 9:24 mark.
Tech again forfeited an opportunity after a 61-yard drive resulted in Robertson throwing his only interception of the game on a 2nd and goal to SAU’s freshman Elgin Moore in the end zone for a touchback.
The remainder of the half would go on scoreless. Tech’s Smith fumbled again, but SAU only turned the ball over on downs in response to close out the half.
Both teams punted twice to open the second half, but on SAU’s third possession the Muleriders drove 65 yards in seven plays and scored on a 25-yard touchdown pass from Blackshire to freshman Sidney Moore, extending the lead to 21-7 with 2:36 left in the third quarter.
The fourth quarter was silent until Tech took advantage of ideal field position and capped an eight-play, 38-yard drive off with Robertson’s 9-yard touchdown pass to sophomore Tony Adams, bringing the Wonder Boys to within a score with 6:41 left on the clock.
Tech had a chance late, taking over with 1:51 left on its own 34-yard line, but the two-minute drill proved unsuccessful as Robertson’s 4th and 22 pass to junior Jermaine Merdock fell incomplete.
Tech’s running game was nonexistent, but Merdock led the receiving core in yardage with 90 yards on seven receptions. Adams and Anderson each caught a touchdown. Robertson completed 23 of his 48 passes with 257 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
Junior Logan Genz and Senior Shai Kobayashi led the Wonder Boys defensively with 14 and 10 tackles, respectively, but Tech gave up a total of 487 yards in its third loss of the season.
The Wonder Boys play the undefeated Henderson State Reddies (6-0, 5-0 GAC) at 2 p.m. on Saturday at Thone Stadium at Buerkle Field.
“We’re going to see a different defensive front next week than we have so far,” Monica said. “We’ll practice and get better this week.”