A week after their heartbreaking setback at No. 2 Sam Houston State, the Lamar Cardinals returns to action Saturday when it hosts nationally ranked Central Arkansas at 6 p.m. in Provost Umphrey Stadium.
The game, against the nation's 20th-ranked team, will serve as Homecoming and the Southland Conference home opener for Lamar (3-3/0-1 SLC).
It will be Lamar's second consecutive game against a ranked opponent for a Cardinal team (3-3/0-1 SLC) that is looking for its first win over a top-25 program since resurrecting the program for the 2010 season.
Lamar has won two of its last three games, and nearly missed that top-25 victory last week in Huntsville taking two-time Southland Conference champion Sam Houston State down to the wire before falling short, 14-3. The Bears enter the week with an identical record to Lamar, and have also won two of their past three games.
Despite the 0-6 mark against nationally ranked foes, the Cardinals, a program that is only in its fourth year of existence, has come close to picking up that signature win several times this season. Lamar stayed with FBS opponent Louisiana Tech but the Bulldogs were able to hold on in the final minutes for the win, and last week, the Cardinals held Walter Payton candidate Tim Flanders to less than 100 rushing, but offensive miscues hurt Lamar down the stretch.
Saturday's game has all the makings of another defensive struggle similar to what fans witnessed in Huntsville. Lamar continues to lead the Southland in total defense (309.8 ypg), while the Bears are second in that category (341 ypg).
The Cardinals also top the Southland charts in scoring and passing defense. UCA is one of the better teams in the league against the run, currently ranked second surrendering 138 rushing yards per game.
The Cardinals will look to attack that run defense with senior Payton Ploch and freshman Kade Harrington. The duo is averaging more than 99 yards per game, led by Harrington who has 397 yards on 74 carries. Harrington enters Lamar's homecoming showdown only 211 shy of breaking school's 62-year old freshman rushing record.
Central Arkansas enters the game facing some adversity. Their Walter Payton Award candidate quarterback, Wynrick Smother, was sidelined last week with an ankle injury. Smothers, who is ranked among the nation's leaders in total offense, represented 72 percent of his team's total offense.
Despite the loss of Smothers, UCA still has an intimidating offense that is led by four of the league's top receivers. The Bears currently have four of the league's top 10 reception leaders, led by junior Dezmin Lewis who has hauled in 28 catches for 368 yards and two touchdowns.