The ever-moving pendulum that is game momentum swung back and forth so many times Saturday afternoon at Estes Stadium that if you were to walk in at different times during the game between No. 21 Central Arkansas and No. 3 Sam Houston State, you wouldn’t know which team was higher ranked.
Following his team’s win over the Bearkats, UCA Head Coach Clint Conque couldn’t point to that magical “turning point” that allowed the Bears to prevail, 24-20. He knew that instead of one big play, momentum shifted based on a number of small plays.
“You can certainly look at us holding them to a field goal late that gave us a chance to come back,” Conque said. “We stopped them earlier in the game in the red zone, and they came away with no points. There were moments in all three phases of the game that we converted plays; those won the game.”
Momentum had certainly shifted toward Sam Houston in the fourth quarter. With the Bearkats leading 17-10, UCA could only manage 7 yards on a quick three-and-out, and Sam Houston got the ball back with 11:27 remaining. The Bearkats ran 12 plays, running off six minutes, but they could only manage a field goal. UCA had held and took whatever momentum they had and transferred it to Wynrick Smothers.
“We knew what we had to do there,” Smothers said. “I hadn’t had a great game so far, but we knew we had to score fast and get the ball back.”
Smothers and his team did exactly that. UCA drove 75 yards in two minutes with Smothers running the last 17 yards for a touchdown after the pocket collapsed around him.
“I felt the pressure from the back, and I just started running,” he said. “I just knew I had to get to the end zone.”
It was a momentum-shifter because UCA didn’t burn any of its remaining two time outs on the drive. The defense then did its part, holding Sam Houston to nine yards, giving up only a minute of time. When UCA got the ball back, it had no time outs and a long 77 yards to go. But it had was momentum.
Smothers, who had not been accurate on the long ball for most of the game, suddenly found Dominique Croom for 41 yards and finally on a fade route for 26 yards and the winning score. Conque said that once UCA got its offense going, “We were going down with No. 84. He was going to win it for us.”
Sam Houston dominated UCA for most of the first two quarters but only led 10-0. Even after a Sam Houston interception and a big pass from Bearkat quarterback Brian Bell to Trey Diller to get inside the 10-yard line, the UCA defense kept Sam Houston out of the end zone. A missed field goal placed the momentum back in UCA’s lap, and they responded pulling to within three points before the end of the first half.
“You just can’t point to one thing,” Conque said. “We knew everything wasn’t going to go right, not against this team. But we persevered and got it going at the right time.”