Fifth-year senior Hayden Hildebrand accomplished a lot during his time at the University of Central Arkansas, but fell short of a national championship with a 21-15 loss to the University of New Hampshire on Saturday in the second round of the FCS playoffs.
Saturday’s game was more bitter than sweet for Hildebrand, but he did see a silver lining to his career at UCA.
"It sucks that it’s over," Hildebrand said. "It’s been a fun ride, but it’s a surreal feeling in a bad way. I teared up a bit in the locker room. I learned a lot during my time at UCA, and I have enjoyed the relationships I’ve built."
Hildebrand has been the most efficient passer in the nation this season, leading the nation with a passing efficiency of 181.3 and completing 67 percent of his passes.
However, the Wildcats defense gave him trouble in the second round of the Football Championship Subdivision on Saturday.
Again completing 67.5 percent of his passes Saturday, it was a tipped pick-6 midway through the third quarter by UNH redshirt freshman safety Evan Horn that ended up being the difference in the game.
"I wanted to hit [wide receiver] Brandon Cox over the middle on that play, but their linebackers got in the way," he said. "I should have thrown it away and make the next read. Sometimes you look like a champ, and others, you don’t."
Hildebrand did strike with running back Cedric Battle on a pair of long touchdown passes.
The first touchdown coming five minutes into the game at 74 yards, and the second from 78 yards, which answered a 9-yard touchdown by the Wildcats.
"I had an idea that Cedric and I were going to connect on some plays," Hildebrand said. "We took some shots downfield, and they worked to our advantage. I thought he was going to have some big plays today, and he did."
Hildebrand also set a career high for him with 361 yards passing on the day.
As a three-year starter, Hildebrand has built a career where his name pops up in second on several school passing records behind current offensive coordinator Nathan Brown’s.
Hildebrand has helped lead UCA to back-to-back FCS Playoff’s, an undefeated Southland Conference campaign and the team’s first SLC championship since 2012.
He was also named the SLC Player of the Year in 2017.
Hildebrand’s UCA career may have ended on a sour note, but he has a lot to smile about when looking back.
"I have enjoyed me time in Conway," he said.