At Monday’s weekly Bearbacker luncheon, University of Central Arkansas coach Clint Conque still felt the sting of giving one of the nation’s best offenses clear shots at close range.
In a 33-30 victory over the Bears at First Security Field at Estes Stadium, Stephen F. Austin (5-1, 2-0) drove 1, 16 and 26 yards for 21 points that were set up by two muffed punts and a blocked punt.
"You can’t give the No. 1 offense in America (NCAA Football Championship Subdivision), one that is averaging 48 points a game, those kind of chances at point-blank range," Conque said. "We basically gift-wrapped 21 points."
He passed up a lot of finger-pointing.
"It starts with me, and I’ve got to do a better job of making sure we’re prepared for all situations," he said.
The Lumberjacks, with consecutive victories over McNeese State and UCA, now are in the driver’s seat in the early part of the SLC race.
"We need to worry about the things we can control," Conque said. "You’ve just got to have a short-term memory and move forward."
He noted there was not all negative issues about UCA’s first conference home loss since 2004.
"SFA is a very good, very explosive football team, and they deserve credit," he said. "But we’re a good football team. We’re going to be OK. I continue to be pleased with the play of (quarterback) Robbie Park. Our offensive line played well. I’m proud of our backs, and James Lovett (11 receptions) had the third best receiving game in school history. We had some good individual performances."
He said the special teams play was overall very good outside of the three major gaffes in the punting game.
The first muff occurred when the Bears’ coverage team failed to get out of the way of a bouncing punt. The officials ruled it bounced off a UCA player and led to a quick SFA touchdown. The second occurred when Anthony Gambles fumbled while trying to return a punt. Gambles, because of an injury, had not played in two weeks. Isaiah Jackson had taken his place.
However, Conque noted that Jackson had broken the tip of a thumb and was playing with a splint on one of his thumbs.
"We tried him out, but it was apparent he couldn’t return punts because he couldn’t catch the ball," Conque said, noting that Jackie Hinton Jr. will be the deep man on punt returns the next two weeks. "The bottom line is we’ve got to catch punts."
The blocked punt, which resulted in almost a freebie touchdown after SFA recovered on the 1, occurred when regular place-kicker Eddie Carmona attempted a punt after regular punter Jon Beard had booted a 27-yarder earlier in the game.
"Eddie had the best week punting in practice," Conque said. "Jon has been inconsistent. Eddie was a little slow getting off the punt, but I’m not going to put it all on him. We just missed a block."
Conque said he was proud of the team for "dealing with all the (kicking game carnage) and still giving ourselves a chance to win the game."
"We came back from a 30-20 deficit in basically two minutes of real time and gave ourselves a chance," Conque said.
He said SFA played zone defense in the secondary most of the game, which limited the potential on deep balls.
"With the zone, you have to be very efficient and take advantage of big-play opportunities," Conque said. "They make you milk and execute for what you get. We were five and five in the red zone, but we traded touchdowns for field goals a couple of times, and when you do that, you find yourself behind."
The Bears were penalized 11 times for 104 yards.
"We have got to stay ahead of the chains," Conque said. "We are not explosive enough on offense to find ourselves in first and 20 or first and 25."
He said 140 of the 390 yards on offense by SFA occurred on the final drive of the first half (resulting in a missed field goal) and the final drive of the game (resulting in the winning field goal).
"Our awareness and focus has to be better there," Conque said. "We didn’t miss very many tackles but the tackles we missed came at key times."
PLAYERS OF THE GAME: On offense, the UCA coaches selected offensive lineman Austin Emerson. Taylor Scott, who had a key sack before halftime that forced a field goal attempt, was the defensive choice. Scout team awards went to Nate Richards on offense and LaMarquis King on defense. No awards were given for special teams or for a big stick.
HOMECOMING: Saturday night’s homecoming game will be against Nicholls State.
"There are a lot of distractions that go with homecoming," Conque said. "We’ve got to be mature enough to handle them."