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story.lead_photo.caption Arkansas kicker Alex Tejada is surrounded by teammates after kicking a game winning field goal in overtime to beat East Carolina 20-17 in the Liberty Bowl. - Photo by Benjamin Krain

— Alex Tejada wasn’t up for a good joke to loosen him up on the sideline Saturday night at the Liberty Bowl.

“I kept everybody away this time,” Tejada said.

Tejada kept to himself before hitting a field goal to lift Arkansas to a 20-17 victory over East Carolina in overtime. It was the first game-winning field goal for Arkansas since 2003, when the Razorbacks knocked off Alabama in double overtime.

Before Tejada nailed his 37-yard field goal through the middle of the uprights, he had yet to hit a big field goal in his threeyear career at Arkansas.

“I’ve been in these situations lots of times, and this time it just felt like it was a little different,” he said.

Tejada had his shots against Florida and most recently in the regular-season finale against LSU, but missed field goals cost Arkansas in the two losses.

At the Liberty Bowl, though, confidence wasn’t an issue.

Tejada missed a 43-yarder with the wind in his face in the fourth quarter, but he trusted his mechanics with a brisk wind at his back in overtime as East Carolina attempted to ice him on the cold, brisk night by calling a timeout.

“All night I just felt pretty confident in my swing, even after the one that I missed,” Tejada said. “I just stuck with it. It didn’t bother me. I knew I was going to get another chance, and I did.”

Inconsistency has hampered Tejada most of his career. He made field goals of 47, 40 and 35 yards against LSU on Nov. 28, but missed a 36-yard attempt in overtime as LSU held on for a 33-30 victory.

He also had a chance to put Arkansas ahead with a 38-yard field goal with 3:08 remaining against then-No. 1 Florida earlier this season but missed wide left.

Last season, Tejada was demoted in favor of a walk-on after a disastrous game against Louisiana-Monroe that included missed field goals, extra points, a delay-of-game penalty and a kick out of bounds on a kickoff.

Tejada stepped up Saturday on a night when quarterback Ryan Mallett and Arkansas’ offense struggled to convert a single third down in 13 attempts.

“The team stuck behind him through the season when [the media was] yapping at him and all that,” Mallett said. “We didn’t care what you all were saying. We’re a team, and we stuck behind him.”

Tejada outperformed East Carolina’s Ben Hartman in a game of crucial field-goal attempts, too. The Pirates’ career leader in points made 1 of 5 field-goal attempts and missed two possible game-winners in the last two minutes in regulation.

“It’s tough,” Tejada said. “I know that he had a pretty good year, so I was really surprised. But once we got to overtime I knew we had a chance to win.”

Tejada also admitted to being a bit more confident after watching East Carolina’s kicker struggle, especially after he missed a 35-yard kick to the left in overtime.

“I was pretty confident after he missed that one that we’d go out there and score a touchdown or we’ll make the field goal,” Tejada said. “At that point, I was pretty confident we were going to win the game, and we did.”

Sports, Pages 32 on 01/03/2010

Print Headline: Tejada’s time in overtime

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