Football teams Hendrix College and the University of Central Arkansas had their bright moments Saturday, but raised cloudy questions about what’s on the horizon.
For the Bears, it was partly sunny.
UCA’s game against Colorado University in Boulder was a tit-for-tat, evenly played game. The Bears, leading 24-17 and driving for possibly the clinching score, had an interception returned for a touchdown, fueling a 21-0 onslaught in the final nine minutes.
Colorado, improved from a one-win team last season, is still likely a bottom-level Football Bowl Subdivision team. The UCA players and coaches, sensing for weeks they had a real chance at a mileston victory, feel they let one slip away.
They sank in quicksand they largely helped to create — 21 points primarily because of turnovers, two pick-6s.
The line between a glorious celebration and a crushing defeat was fine. Colorado had a screen pass go for a touchdown. UCA had a tipped screen pass intercepted and returned for a touchdown.
UCA teams have been there before against upper-division opponents, and therein lies the question. The Bears have gotten to the hump but haven’t gotten over it — in recent years against Hawaii, Louisiana Tech and Ole Miss, all winnable games deep into the second half against FBS opponents. Each time, the Bears were a play or two and a break or two or a great play from the opponent shy of pulling the upset.
Each time, the Bears played a good game and lost.
“You can play badly against an inferior opponent and still win 30 or 40 points. Against a BCS team, you can play very well and still lose if you make little mistakes in critial situations,” said UCA coach Clint Conque.
It’s a miss read here by a quarterback, an erratic route by a receiver, a coverage bust by a defensive back, a missed block by a lineman, a missed tackle by a defender, a tipped pass or two with the wrong outcome. The Bears had a dropped pass in the end zone in the second quarter.
The assortment of little (and sometimes freak) things can sink a team riding the crest of a wave.
The question for UCA, a team that seems to have enormous potential, is how the Bears will react and learn from the defeat, which is not terribly damaging except for the pride and “coming oh so close” psychological factor.
For Hendrix, head coach Buck Buchanan and his staff and players pulled off one of the most amazing feats of the college football season. The Warriors, fielding their first football team in 53 years, did not have a squad until players reported on Aug. 14. The only member of the team who was on campus in the spring (Hunter Lawler) was injured.
In a little more than three weeks, the hastily pulled together group of Warriors pulled off a 46-44 back-and-forth, come-from-behind victory over Westminster in which they had to drive 75 yards for a last-second field goal.
Almmost everything came together beautifully for the Warriors’ debut — an overflow crowd of about 3,000, inspiring enthusiasm from both the student section and alumni, as exciting a game as you could expect to see, a wonderful stadium on a sunny afternoon (except for torrid heat) and a Hollywood-style finish. Many of those fans, some on the Hendrix campus for the first time in years, will come back for more — and tell their friends.
Westminster, from Fulton, Mo., and the Division III Upper Midwest Conference, is not a Division III football power. In planning for the first game in 53 years, Hendrix officials scheduled well.
But the Blue Jays, 4-6 last season, had some good players and weren’t bad, played hard and probably expected to win. The Warriors had to make an assortment of plays plays in pressure situations to win.
The incline gets much steeper for the Warriors with a road game against Birmingham-Southern, the defending Southern Athletic Conference chammpion this week.
The question for the Warriors is how much they can build on their opening success and whether the effort — and the atmosphere, created for football is sustainable. Nobody had Hendrix wants that victory — benchmark that it was — to be the only one this season.
UCA is trying to patch some leaks on what appears to be a sturdy vessel. Hendrix is still building the ship.
Both are moving foward; neither faces smooth sailing.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @dmaclcd)