In a true game of football with several foot faults, Stephen F. Austin got the final toehold Saturday night.
The University of Central Arkansas finally felt the agony of da feet at home in a Southland Conference television game and to a team from Texas.
In a contest that became a jarring, twisting thrill ride for both teams in the final minutes, SFA’s Evan Engwall booted a 35-yard field goal with three seconds left to give the 20th-ranked SFA a 33-30 victory over the eighth-ranked Bears, carving the Lumberjacks the inside track in the Southland Conference race.
The Bears (4-2, 1-1) lost to a Texas team for the first time and also sustained their first home conference loss since Valdosta State beat them in September of 2004. It was UCA’s first home loss since South Dakota State took a 38-10 victory in 2007.
UCA special teams blunders accounted for 21 of SFA’s 30 points.
"That was more than the difference in the game," said UCA coach Clint Conque, whose team almost pulled off one of the most incredible comebacks in school history, churning the stomachs of many of the 7,527 chilled spectators at First Security Field at Estes Stadium.
Before Engwall’s game-winner, both teams had to endure 7:45 minutes of of a mixture of pure craziness and sensational plays after a blocked punt led to SFA taking a seemingly comfortable 30-20 lead with 7:45 left.
After UCA scored a field goal, recovered an onside kick and used a 44-yard pass from Robbie Park to Preston Echols to draw even at 30 with 49 seconds left, the game teetered on a double-tipped pass that Aaron Rhea caught while lying on his back on the UCA 18. After three timeouts, Engwall kicked the game-winner.
"Beginning with a goal-line stand, you’ve got to keep believing and keep playing," Conque said. "I’m proud how we responded and made plays.
"I said all week that I thought the kicking games and turnovers would decide the game and that’s what happened."
SFA (5-1, 2-0) scored on a 14-yard pass from quarterback Jeremy Moses to Aaron Rhea after a punt glanced off the leg of LaDarius Winston with Jackie Hinton Jr. shouting to a group of teammates around the ball to get out of the way. After UCA drew within 14-13, the Lumberjacks got the field position for another touchdown after a fumble on a punt return by Anthony Gambles, who was seeing his first action in more than three weeks. Moses, who was 29 of 40 for 320 yards and three touchdowns, passed 23 yards to Gralyn Crawford for a 21-13 advantage.
The Lumberjacks gained a cushion when Cory Barlow, leading a strong charge, blocked a punt by Eddie Carmona, who was inserted to punt after regular punter Jonathan Beard shanked a 27-yarder earlier in the game. SFA took over on the 1, and Vincent Pervis scored the touchdown that gave SFA a 30-20 lead with 12:46 left.
After an interception, the Lumberjacks seemed ready to inflate their cushion when James Lancaster blocked a field goal attempt by Engwall and Derrick Boyd recovered for UCA on its 41.
After James Lovett, who had 11 receptions for 75 yards, made a leaping catch of a Park pass for 25 yards on fourth and five, Dominque Croom made a superb reception of a pass over the middle that set UCA up at the SFA 31. The drive stalled at the SFA 9, where Carmona booted a 25-yard field goal to pull UCA within 30-23 with 1:09 left.
After an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against the SFA sideline gave UCA a kickoff 15 yards closer, Carmona’s onside kick bounced high, and Lovett leaped for the recovery at the SFA 44. On the first play, Park went deep, and Preston Echols burned the SFA defense on a post pattern for a touchdown and Carmona kicked the Bears even with the extra point.
Moses completed passes to Duane Brooks and Rhea, then overcame first and 20 when Rhea pulled down the multi-tipped pass flat on his back. SFA took a timeout and UCA too in an attempt to ice Engwall, who had an extra point blocked by Trey Lippe and missed on a 33-yard field goal after hit 28-yarder that was wiped away because of a penalty.
UCA’s defense denied Lumberjacks a touchdown with one of the wildest goal line stands ever. SFA faced second and goal from the 1 and inserted backup quarterback Dalton Williams, who is 6-4 and a sneak specialist. He was stopped in his tracks on one sneak attempt, but UCA was call for offsides and the ball was moved about two inches from the goal line. Williams tried again and the UCA front stopped him in his tracks. Anthony Gambles knocked down a third-down pass in the end zone.
On fourth down, SFA was penalized 5 yards for a false start. Then UCA was penalized 4 yards for offside. Engwall finally booted a 19-yard field goal to give SFA a 24-20 lead that quickly swelled to 30-20 after the blocked punt on Carmona.
"We did what you have to do as a football team," Conque said. "You keep believing and playing the next play."
The SFA defense, with an active front and linebackers, limited UCA to its short passing game most of the evening.
Park took advantage of the dinks and dunks to methodically and patiently drive the Bears 80 yards in 16 plays to a 7-yard run by Brent Grimes and 68 yards in 10 plays to a 4-yard run by Grimes.
Carmona had one of his best games as a Bear with field goals of 38, 27 and 25 yards.
Neither team did much on the ground. UCA had 152 yards on 38 rushes and SFA had 71 on 20 rushes. Park was 27 of 42 for 236 yards and one interception.
The Bears will try to recover with their homecoming game next week against Nicholls State, which fell to 0-2 in the conference with a 34-28 loss to Texas State.