McCollum’s Column: ‘They were as good as I hoped they wouldn’t be’

UCA’s Tre Smith confronts a New Hampshire receiver

University of Central Arkansas football coach Steve Campbell looked at the stat sheet and forlornly shook his head.

 

The formula for elimination in the FCS playoffs with the season-ending, second-round loss Saturday to New Hampshire stuck like thorns.

UCA rushed for 73 yards on 34 carries running constantly into a stone wall of a Wildcat defensive front in the 21-15 defeat.

The Bears outgained the Wildcats, 434-216 with quarterback Hayden Hildebrand passing for a career-high 361 yards and two touchdowns. However, UCA turned the ball over four times to New Hampshire’s 1 and that included a killer pick-6.

UCA had yielded six sacks all season. The Wildcats sacked Hildebrand five times and disrupted the offense with hurries and tipped passes.

New Hampshire (9-4) was one of the last team to make the 24-team FCS field. But it plays in the Colonial Athletic Association, one of the toughest in the country from top to bottom.

“They’re a good football team,” Campbell lamented. “They are really good. They were as good as I hoped they wouldn’t be.

“You look at their record but who are they playing?” he added. “Apparently they are playing really good people.”

The Bears only scored on two long pass plays from Hildebrand to Cedric Battle plus a safety.

“We got two home runs,” Campbell said. “Their defense is like McNeese’s but we got a couple more home runs against McNeese. We make mistakes you can’t make against a team like this. I wish I could have prepared better.

“We don’t give up sacks and they got five. They were not the team you expected to get sacks. We lost the turnover battle, 4-1, and we had been getting turnovers. They had been struggling in the kicking game and we thought we had a great chance to return something. Then, their kicker kicks the ball 6 yards deep in the end zone on the opening kickoff. I’m thinking, ‘what is going on here?’”

The bye week the Bears (10-2) as a No. 4 seed?

“If we had won, I would say it might have been because of the bye week,” he said. “I don’t know if I would have done anything different. We needed a couple of days to get back in the right frame of mind. We got an extra day of practice. I wish we could have played better. I wished I would have prepared them better.”

Flanked by both Hildebrand and Tre Smith, Campbell looked at a bigger picture.

“These guys have been part of teams that have won 20 Division I wins in two years; they went undefeated to a Southland Conference championship,” he said. “I’ve been beat before. You go on. I’d play them (the Wildcats) if I could.

“This doesn’t change who you are,” he said pointing to Hildebrand. “It doesn’t change who you are (pointing to Tre Smith). Whether you win or lose shouldn’t define you.”

The Bears exited the season with tearful eyes and drooping heads.

But in perspective, the sum of the season was greater than the ugly nature of one of its parts.

 

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