In describing Saturday night’s 42-37 loss to Stephen F. Austin, University of Central Arkansas coach Clint Conque made an appropriate pun.
“The game had a lot of ebb and flow,” he said at Monday’s weekly Bearbacker luncheon.
The game at Nacogdoches, Texas, was play in monsoon conditions throughout with waves of water regularly flowing across the field like the tide coming in at the beach. The teams combined for 13 fumbles and 11 turnovers.
“I went through every piece of clothing I had,” quipped Conque. “At least the players can play and run around. The coaches had to stand there and get pounded for three hours ... We took 14 dozen towels and ran out.”
Even though the weather conditions were a major factor in the game, Conque said “not so much in the outcome.”
“They were the better football team; they were the more physically dominating team,” he said after his team was outgained 467 yards to 217. “We really struggled against them at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. We could not move or establish the line of scrimmage and their (the Lumberjacks’) physical maturity had a lot to do with that.
“A lot of our offensive struggles had to do with their impressive defensive line. Will Jefferson, their defensive end, only had one sack but he influenced things at the line of scrimmage the entire night.”
Still, the Bears held the Lumberjacks to 82 yards in offense the second half and were attempting a Hail Mary for the win in the end zone when quarterback Wynrick Smothers was sacked on the last play by Jefferson.
“We created opportunities for us to win on the last play of the game,” Conque said. “We gave ourselves the chance to win. We needed to make one more play somewhere, on offense, defense or special teams.”
For example, the Bears’ appeared to stop an SFA drive right before the half with an interception by Radarious Winston in the end zone. However, that became a no play when the Bears lined up in the neutral zone. On the next play, SFA quarterback Brady Attaway passed to Cordell Roberson for a touchdown that gave the Lumberjacks a 35-21 halftime lead, which was huge considering the weather conditions the second half.
Trailing 42-28 late, the Bears got back in it with a 72-yard fumble return by defense end Jonathan Woodard. The UCA defense forced SFA into taking a safety on a punt attempt late in the game to set up one final chance.
“We competed from start to finish,” Conque said. “One more tackle, one more catch, one more play somewhere could have made the difference.
“We could not effectively and consistently put together drives on offense even on a short field. As good as our stat line was on defense in that game, our tackling as bad. Our defensive line played pretty well but our linebacker fits were not so good something we adjusted to fairly well in the second half.”
Conque pointed to a 66-yard touchdown run by SFA’s Gus Johnson that gave the Lumberjacks the lead for good with 2:58 left in the second quarter.
“We had three players who had him stopped along the side and we teach about trying to strip the ball in those conditions,” Conque said. “The problem was all three let go at the same time and tried to strip the ball. So, the back goes 66 yards right down the sideline for a touchdown, pretty embarrassing.”Saturday night, the Bears return home against Nicholls State, which is playing its conference opener after a 1-2 start.
“We’re still on track for our goals,” Conque said. “Just like you usually do, we have to win at home and find a way to steal a couple of the road.”