OXFORD — The difference between an opening weekend loss to an SEC foe and a shocking upset was one quarter.
The 49-27 loss to Ole Miss at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium was decided in the span of a few minutes that gave the home team all the momentum and left a bad taste in the underdogs’ mouths.
The UCA Bears experienced a dismal third period, one in which they led 20-14 only to find themselves in a 28-20 hole 15 minutes later. It was that 15 minutes that decided their fate: four possessions, two first downs, two 3-and-outs and one turnover.
During that same time, Ole Miss scored two touchdowns and tallied 178 yards. The deluge of scoring by the Rebels in the fourth quarter was just a result of the tide turning earlier that half.
It was a stark difference to the UCA team who stood toe to toe with Ole Miss throughout the first half, taking advantage of opportunities, putting pressure on the hurry up offense of the Rebels and establishing an offensive identity of its own.
The Bears surpassed their big-time foe in nearly every category in the first half including the one that mattered most, the score. And the most impressive aspect was that it wasn’t a fluke. No gadget plays were needed, no crazy turnovers occurred (both teams had one apiece), no onside kicks or weird bounces of the ball happened. UCA handled the Rebels’ up tempo offense and never looked fazed or frazzled ... that is until that particular third quarter.
Quarterback Wynrick Smothers was efficient in the first two quarters, completing 11-of-13 passes for 141 yards and a touchdown. He was pressured at times, but he stood in and moved the Bears down the field and was never sacked. But Ole Miss finally got to him later in the game, dropping him four times and keeping UCA from getting any sort of momentum. At the same time, the Rebels found a rhythm that the Bears couldn’t stop. It was too much to overcome.
Not flinching in the face of 50,000 Hotty Toddies is something to build on, but the Bears will most likely make sure they bring their “A” game in the second half from now on.