A week removed from multiple big plays against NAIA school Texas Wesleyan, Central Arkansas lacked in that area Saturday in a 27-14 loss to Stephen F. Austin on “The Stripes.”
The final home game of the 2021 season left frustration for a Bears team that, at times, struggled to get movement on the offensive side of the ball.
Defensively, UCA gave up nearly 500 yards of total offense on 74 plays.
If not for a lengthy fourth-quarter drive that chewed up nearly 11 minutes of the clock, which resulted in a loss of downs on fourth down, the Bears would be lacking in both plays and time of possession.
But, that explosiveness wasn’t there for a UCA team that saw 20 seniors play their final game at Estes Stadium.
“Very frustrated,” UCA head coach Nathan Brown said. “I told the team after the game, this one’s on me. I thought they played hard. They practiced well this week. I think one thing I usually do a good job of as head coach is second-half adjustments and having a feel for the second half. And I just didn’t do a very good job of that tonight.
“Whether it was getting the right play called, or just getting the guys motivated in a timely fashion, and I didn’t do a very good job of that. It’s late in the year, you have to figure out how to get an edge in a game, and you’ve got two good football teams battling each other. I just didn’t do enough, and I take the blame for this loss.”
Though not holding a strong lead like it did against Eastern Kentucky, the second half was reminiscent in that UCA struggled on offense, failing to put any points on the board.
“We got shut out in the second half and we’re not accustomed to that,” Brown said. “Over the last three or four years, we’ve been a really good second-half team, but we didn’t do enough tonight.”
Brown said that the passing game was part of the problem.
“We just didn’t create any explosive plays in the pass game,” Brown said. “I think that was the big thing. We had some explosive plays in the run game but we were just never really able to shake loose with the ball down the field. And that’s something we’re accustomed to, especially this year.”
Bears junior quarterback Breylin Smith never connected with receivers on a pass longer than 16 yards, however, at least two dropped passes during the game could have helped that distance go up.
That 16-yard completion did help sophomore wide receiver Tyler Hudson set a single-season receiving record.
Hudson passed Aaron Fairooz’s 2005 record of 1,197 receiving yards.
On the season, Hudson has 1,213 yards and has one game left to play this Saturday against Tarleton State.
Though the Bears struggled getting the ball to receivers, the rushing attack was strong for much of the game.
However, after standout freshman running back Darius Hale rushed eight times for 57 yards in the first quarter, he received just four carries in the second and third quarters.
He finished the night with 88 yards on 18 carries and a touchdown.
Defensively, the Bears struggled to contain SFA sophomore wide receiver Xavier Gipson, who torched the UCA defense on the Lumberjacks’ first play from scrimmage, going for 73 yards and a touchdown.
Gipson ended with six receptions for 99 yards and three touchdowns.
But, it was his second touchdown that Brown said inflicted the most damage to the Bears.
“Giving up that touchdown right before halftime, I thought that deflated us a little bit,” he said. “Tough loss but I was pleased with the way out guys battled up until the last second. And you appreciate that. You can sit there and talk about injuries and guys that didn’t play, but it is what it is. You have to get the next guy ready and find a way to win football games, and we weren’t able to do that tonight.”
Gipson scored on a 6-yard reception, breaking free at the line of scrimmage on a crossing pattern and hauling it in on the left side of the end zone.
That touchdown gave SFA a 17-14 lead – a lead it would not relinquish for the remainder of the game.
The Bears did have a chance to cut that lead down and possibly get back within a winnable situation in the fourth quarter, but one drive took 10:47 off the clock, which resulted in the previously mentioned loss of downs on a play where Smith threw his pass past the line of scrimmage into the end zone.
The pass fell incomplete and Smith was injured on the play.
Brown said Smith was in good spirits and tried to go back out to finish the game, but redshirt freshman Darius Bowers finished the game.
The Bears fall to 5-5 on the season and 4-3 in AQ7 play. UCA closes out the 2021 season next Saturday with a trip to WAC newcomer Tarleton State.