A reporter for the Lake Charles newspaper noted to University of Central Arkansas coach Clint Conque that the Bears’ 27-26 victory over McNeese State on Saturday represented one of the most unbelievable, incredible comebacks he had ever seen.
He asked the coach if he had ever seen anything like it in his career.
“Yeh, three weeks ago when we scored two touchdowns in the last 3:18 to defeat Sam Houston State,” Conque said.
The Bears trailed the Bearkats by 10 with 5:25 left and no timeouts and rallied to win 24-20. Saturday night, the Bears were behind nine to McNeese State and scored 10 points, the last a 47-yard field goal by Eddie Camara with 23 seconds left.
“We had to execute six special team plays in the last minutes to win,” Conque said. “It was a game of big plays by both teams by a lot of people.”
And fortuitous bounces.
Camara’s field goal was set up when Dezmin Lewis recovered a deflected onside kick by freshman Jace Denker.
Onside kicks are more tricky this year because of a rule change that maintains the ball must bounce more than once before it can be recovered.
“We practice a lot of these type of things in camp and once a week during the season,” Conque said. “Denker was a little better at that kick than Eddie. But in all the time we practiced, it never worked once. We kick it right to somebody, we’d kick it out of bounds, the ball wouldn’t go 10 yards. It had never worked. An onside kick is something you get one shot at.
“Jace made a great kick, got a deflection and Dezmin made a great play on the recovery. But I’ll admit we got a couple of fortunate bounces. We can control the execution and the personnel and the alignment, but once an oblong ball starts bouncing a couple of times, it can go anywhere.”
Facing fourth and one at the McNeese 30 with 23.5 seconds left, Conque faced another decision trailing 26-24.
He sent Camara in to attempt the winning field goal.
“It was no a big decision,” he said. “We had a chance to win the game on the next play. Maybe we could have made the first down if we had gone for it. I remembered last year against Nicholls State when we passed up a field goal and did and it turned out to be a bad coaching decision. So much of place-kicking is mental and Eddie seemed to be in a good place. His kickoffs were high and deep. He made a 41-yard field goal earlier and he had made all his PATs.
“He was kicking it well in pregame and I knew from watching him in practice, he had the range. But it’s not just the kicker. Parker Carpenter got a good snap, Seth Allison got the hold and that kick would have been good from 55 yards out — straight down the middle.”
With the two comeback wins against two of the best teams in the league was another sign to Conque that this may be a special team.
“The sign of a pretty good team is when you have to do something under pressure,” he said. “We’ve done it twice now under pressure. There’s no doubt what happened against Sam Houston had to help. There was no panic among any player or coach in those last minutes.”
UCA now has won three straight against McNeese and has recorded the first road victory in the seven-game history of the series.
Numbing to the fans. Devastating to the Cowboys. Energizing to the Bears.
Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org