New Hampshire Ends UCA’s Season

first_imgCONWAY, Arkansas – The team that was known for protecting the football turned it over four times Saturday afternoon. The team that did not allows sacks gave up five on Saturday. And the team that accumulated twice the offensive yardage did not win on the scoreboard.The opportunistic New Hampshire Wildcats took advantage of all those uncharacteristic issues in beating No. 4 seed Central Arkansas 21-15 in the second round of the NCAA Division I FCS Playoffs at First Security Field at Estes Stadium.The Bears (10-2), who entered the game off a first-round bye and riding a 10-game winning streak, nearly doubled the Wildcats (9-4) in total offensive yardage (434 to 216), but forced only one interception. UCA senior quarterback Hayden Hildebrand was also sacked five times after the Bears’ offensive line had allowed just six total sacks in the first 11 games of the season. But the Wildcats, who entered the game 1-4 on the road this season, did enough to win in their 14th straight appearance in the playoffs, the longest active streak in FCS. UCA was making its second straight appearance and fourth overall since moving to Division I in 2006.Still, the Southland Conference champion Bears got the ball back with 3:24 left on the clock at their own 18, trailing 21-15. Hildebrand, who completed 27 of 40 passes for a career-high 361 yards in his final game, moved UCA down the field and into UNH territory with a pair of completions to senior Roman Gordon and another to junior Lester Wells. With the clock winding down, sophomore Carlos Blackmon broke off a 14-yard run and got out of bounds just across midfield, to stop the clock.After a one-yard run by Hildebrand, he was sacked from behind by UNH linebacker Jared Kuehl on second down and fumbled at the UNH 37. Kuehl fell on the ball at the Wildcats’ 31 and the visitors ran out the clock to advance to the FCS third round, where they will face South Dakota State in Brookings, S.D. on Saturday.”They were good,’ said UCA head coach Steve Campbell, who had the Bears in the second round of the FCS playoffs for the second consecutive year. “I don’t know if that was surprising. I was hoping that they weren’t as good as what they are. Now I can see why they played (No. 1 and defending national champion) James Madison within 21 (points).  “You were hoping the statistics were lying, but they’re good. And we made some mistakes. We had some opportunities. They make you take the long haul. You have to long haul them or home run then, and we hit two home runs, but we just couldn’t put it together long enough and to sustain and to score after a long drive. We moved the ball but we didn’t convert on some things. “We had some turnovers that we hadn’t been having. But when people are good on defense, they’re good at creating turnovers.’ The Bears opened the scoring with one of those home runs, a 74-yard touchdown pass from Hildebrand to junior running back Cedric Battle, capping a three-play, 85-yard drive at the 10:37 mark of the first quarter. The only other first-half score was a 10-yard pass from UNH quarterback Trevor Knight to Evan Gray with 4:01 left in the half. Knight would eventually leave the game with an injury after completing 8 of 14 passes for just 47 yards. His replacement, redshirt freshman Christian Lupoli, was more than adequate, finishing 8 of 10 for 63 yards and a touchdown, a 9-yard strike to Malik Love with 7:19 left to play that gave UNH a 21-9 lead.The Wildcats broke the halftime tie with a 56-yard interception return by redshirt freshman safety Evan Horn at the 7:31 mark of the third period, the first pick six against the Bears this season. UCA punter Patrick Ponder then pinned the Wildcats down at the 2 and two plays later a bad snap to Lupoli resulted in a safety when he was tackled in the end zone by UCA safety George Odum, making it 14-9.The Wildcats held the Bears to just 73 yards rushing, more than 100 yards under their average of 207 yards per game, which ranks second in the SLC. Blackman led the Bears with 68 yards on 11 carries to account for most of those yards. Gordon, a senior from Fort Worth, Texas, caught a career-high nine passes for 65 yards. Battle, from Wichita Falls, Texas, finished with three receptions for a career-high 154 yards and two touchdowns.”I thought our guys played hard, but we didn’t play well enough to beat a really good team,’ said Campbell. “I had no familiarity with that conference, but those guys are good. That’s a good football team. You got to take your hat off to them. They were really good up front (on defense). I thought their inside guys were really good, and I thought those ends were good. I was hoping that the linebackers weren’t as good as what they looked like at times on film. But they were good.’The Bears went undefeated in the Southland Conference for the first time, going 9-0 and earning the automatic bid to the FCS Playoffs and the No. 4 national seed, which gave them a first-round bye last weekend. The Bears finished with 10 victories for the third time in the NCAA Division I era, and for the second straight year under Campbell.      “Our kids played hard and I know they wanted to win,’ said Campbell. “We just did some things  that aren’t going to help you beat a team that’s been there 14 years in a row. These guys led us to a great, great deal and I’ll forever be proud of them. Leading us to a home seed and an undefeated Southland Conference championship. Nobody can take that away from us. These guys had a great senior year. We’re disappointed we didn’t win, and we congratulate them. “I wish I had prepared them better, wish we had played a little better. This one will sting but we’ll learn from it. But these seniors, shoot, they’ve done an outstanding job. I want to win a championship, these young men want to win a championship more than anything. But the lessons that you learn, the values, the work ethic, all that… I don’t need a ring on my finger, and they don’t, to know, they ain’t got nothing on you. And that’s what I want them to know. “It’s about showing up every day and doing the very best that you can. And we wanted to win. And sometimes you do, sometimes you don’t. But that don’t change who you are. You’re a champion, win, lose or draw. Be a champion. Don’t let the circumstances control or define.’Hildebrand finishes as the No. 2 career passer at UCA with 8,025 yards. Senior safety/linebacker George Odum finished with a game-high 14 tackles, putting him fourth all-time at UCA with 352 stops. Senior linebacker James Graves had 11 tackles, while senior tackle Eric Jackson finished up with 2.5 tackles for loss and a sack, giving him 18.5 tackles for loss for the season and 11 sacks, which ties with teammate Chris Terrell and several others as the fourth-best in school history in a single season.last_img