Senior Bears honored after final home appearance

While a number of seniors stood out in their final appearance at Estes Stadium on Saturday, it was two sophomores, a true freshman, and a redshirt freshman, along with, who else, senior punter John Newberry who walked away with Player of the Week honors from the West Alabama Game.

Coach Clint Conque shared the news at the regular weekly Bearbackers meeting on Monday in the Hall of Fame Room at Estes Stadium.

Wide receiver Michael Norvell, who is wrapping up his second year at UCA in style, hauled in nine passes for 150 yards and a touchdown. He shared offensive player honors with the man who threw those passes his way, quarterback Chris Riel. The sophomore transfer made it 2-2 as a starter by hitting 22-32 for 313 yards and two touchdowns. “He played well,” Conque said, adding he attributed the young quarterback’s successes to his intense preparation the last couple of weeks.

Redshirt freshman nickel back Leroy Hamilton, who had 13 hits and an interception was the defensive player of the week.

Conque also had more praise for Willie Hopson the second person in the history of UCA to rush for 1,000 yards, The true freshman has accomplished his remarkable total in essentially eight games after injuries sidelined him for the biggest part of two games in the middle of the season. He is locked in a tight battle with Henderson quarterback Blake Christenson for the rushing title in the Gulf South.

Special teams honors went to Newberry who compiled a 43.5-yard average for his four punts, three of which pinned West Alabama inside its own 20.

Since re-dedicating their efforts to win out in November, the Bears have nearly 1,200 yards of offense with nearly 500 of that total coming Saturday. On the defensive side, Conque was pleased with the effort, but two blocked field goals, one that was carried back for a touchdown, did not leave the most pleasant of tastes in his mouth. “We went live Sunday night on our field goal protection,” he said, adding the team will continue working hard on that aspect of the game this week.

The Bears close the season this week on the road against traditional rival Arkansas Tech. Kickoff at Russellville will be 2 p.m. “This week is the big game,” Conque said of the state’s longest football rivalry. “There is a great deal of history and tradition in the game,” he said.

The head Bear pointed out that the Wonder Boys are led by All American Tommy Edwards, a senior from Harrison who last year made the All American team as a punter and defensive end as well.

“I expect a war,” he said. While noting that ATU is scoring 19 points a game, but giving up 24, Conque said the Wonder Boys plus-II margin in turnovers is impressive. The Bears, by comparison, are at zero in turnover margin after compiling a plus-16 figure a year ago when UCA was 8-3.

A pre-game reception for alumni and Purple Circle members will be held from 10-1 Saturday at Cagle’s Mill in the Holiday Inn (Exit 81 at Russellville).

-Tommy Jackson