OMINOUS OPENERS

Hard-luck Weevils fall just short on blocked FG in final seconds

“To finish.”
Two simple words which, by all accounts, imply completion of a task. For the University of Arkansas at Monticello, that has been more way difficult than football coach Hud Jackson would have liked in his tenure as head Boll Weevil.
When Southwestern Oklahoma State University spoiled  UAM’s home opener by blocking a potential game-winning field goal with mere seconds remaining to hold onto a 20-19 win, it marked the 15th time in the seven years Jackson has led the Kelly Green and White the Weevils have lost a football game by seven points or less.
Put in perspective, Jackson is now 18-48 as head coach at UAM. If those 15 games had gone the other way, he would be 33-33. Not that improving his head coaching record in Monticello is the thing for what he strives, to be sure, but He’s undoubtedly tired of saying things like, “We had a chance to win the game at the end.”
UAM led Saturday’s game at Willis “Convoy” Leslie Cotton Boll Stadium for all but a fraction over six minutes until surrendering the advantage for the last time when the Bulldogs connected on a 22-years touchdown pass with 6:23 left in the fourth quarter. In two possessions after that, the Weevils gained just 46 yards in 19 plays—but still had a chance to send the green-clad fans home happy when sophomore Josh Marini lined up for a 32-yard field goal with six seconds remaining.
Jackson described it this way: “On both sides of ball, we have to win the third-down situation. That is the key to winning we stress it every day. We still had chance to win game at the end with a field goal but we had a breakdown up front. There are no excuses; we have to finish.”
No one surely felt worse than Marini, who had connected on two previous three-pointers to help the Weevils to a 13-0 lead but missed on an extra point, albeit after a 15-yard penalty, that would have negated SWOSU’s comeback by leaving the game tied, with the possibility of overtime.
Jackson, however, shouldered all the blame himself.
“Our players played hard,” he said. “We had a chance to put the game away early but didn’t. We have talked about finishing but did not do it Saturday.”
Indeed, in three possessions after going ahead by 13 points at the beginning of the second quarter, UAM could muster 12 yards in 13 plays, and fumbled both a punt and a kickoff. Still, the Weevils had victory in their grasp.
“We had 16 players cramp up, which hurt us in second half,” Jackson noted. “There are lots of positives to build on.  The defense played well despite giving up two big plays for about 70 yards.”
Even with those two plays Jackson referred to, UAM outgained Southwestern 396-327 in total offense, with the biggest differential coming through the air. Junior quarterback Cole Sears completed 16 of 29 passes for 230 yards and one score—with no interceptions.
Six different players caught Sears’ tosses, with senior Trevon Smith on the receiving end of a 37-yard tourchown pass in the third quarter that helped the Weevils retake the lead. All-American Jalen Tolliver was held to 82 yards on five receptions but drew closer to breaking the UAM career mark for receiving yardage.
Monticello’s own Imani Riley led the UAM rushing attack with 66 yards on 14 attempts. Sears notched the Weevils’ lone rushing touchdown himself, though, on a one-yard run in the first quarter that (with Marini’s extra point) pushed the lead to 10-0.
Two of UAM’s potential All-Great American Conference defensive players, linebackers Ja’lon Watts and Wesley Williams, shined of that side of the ball. Watts led the tackling chart with 10 stops (five solo) while Williams followed closely with nine (six solo). Sophomore Will Jennings, of whom Jackason couldn’t say enough during fall practice, also got his first career interception as the Weevils won the turnover battle 1-0.
Two of the only things Jackson said he could find fault with on the statistics sheet after the game—other than the final score, of course—were that his clue converted only three of five red-zone opportunities and that the Weevils were penalized nine times for 117 yards, many in crucial situations (like that extra point in the third quarter).
The game began as if would ion no way end up as another close UAM loss. The hosts took the opening kickoff and marched 50 yards in eight plays to set up Marini’s first field goal, a 36-yarder. The big play in the drive was Sears’ 36-yard pass to senior tight end Austin Harris.
After SWOSU went three-and-out on its first possession, the Weevils set up shop on their own 41-yard line. Nine plays—including a 24-yard reception by senior Jamel Chevis and a subsequent 13-yard Chevis run—later, Sears scored his touchdown at the 6:32 mark of the first period.
The Weevil defense then held on downs and the former Billie took charge. Riley rushed for five, 11, 42 and one yards in the drive that set up Marini’s second three-pointer, a 22-yarder.
The wheels began coming off when Southwestern scored with just nine seconds remaining before halftime on a long pass, then took the lead for the first time in the game on a short run midway of the third period.
And the rest, as “they” say, is history.
UAM has a chance to redeem itself Saturday at 6 p.m., but it will have to be on the road—where Jackson has been victorious only once in his seven years. The Weevils take their longest trip of the year, to Northwestern Oklahoma State University in Alva, Okla. (more than eight hours away from Monticello).
The Rangers opened the 2017 GAC season last Wednesday by dropping a close 31-28 decision to Ouachita Baptist University—one of the top four teams in the preseason coaches’ poll.
“NWOSU is a good team,” Jackson said. “This is a road game that is very important. We have to bounce back.”
In other GAC games during the first weekend of 2017, both the conference’s ranked teams going into the fall lost. Arkansas Tech University upset league favorite and 22nd-ranked Southern Arkansas University 28-21 while Henderson State University upended defending GAC champion and No. 10 Harding University 28-20.
A pair of Oklahoma schools won the GAC’s other two opening contests. East Central University outlasted Oklahoma Baptist University 55-34 and Southeastern Oklahoma State University blasted hapless Southern Nazarene University 58-0.

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