Penalties, streaky offense and 2-point play execution have plagued the University of Central Arkansas football team this season. On Saturday afternoon, in a 14-12 loss to Austin Peay at Fortera Stadium in Clarksville, Tenn., UCA did not have another miracle finish as all three reared their ugly heads.
With the win, Austin Peay clinched the inaugural United Athletic Conference title and its automatic bid to the FCS playoffs. UCA -- which would have the league championship and playoff bid with a win -- will find out its postseason fate today at 11:30 a.m. during the FCS playoff selection show.
"It's just a tough night for our guys because I wanted it bad for them," Brown said. "Somebody's got to celebrate. It's how you react and respond to that [that matters]. Our guys can be sad, they should be. Lot of emotions, but they can be proud of what we accomplished this year."
The first half played out like most this season. Neither team found much success as the Bears' offense struggled and the defense bought a timeshare in the opposing backfield. UCA totaled 79 yards on offense before the break, averaging 1.1 yards per carry. Defensive end Logan Jessup had one sack, while Jake Golday and Cameron Godfrey combined for another.
UCA (7-4 4-2 UAC) took a 3-0 lead early in the second quarter on Jake Gaster's 21-yard field goal after a drive stalled at the 4.
Just before halftime, Austin Peay (9-2, 6-0) burned 4:42 off the clock on a 10-play drive covering 75 yards. The Governors finished their drive with a 3-yard touchdown rush by Kenny Odom to take a 7-3 lead into halftime.
UCA contributed 20 yards on two penalties to jumpstart Austin Peay's initial drive of the second half. Nine plays and 42 yards later, the Governors made it 14-3 on a 7-yard touchdown run by Jevon Jackson.
The Bears' offense stalled out in the Governors' red zone on its next possession, but Gaster's 28-yard field goal made it a 14-6.
Austin Peay was held to 94 yards on 29 plays and seven points after halftime. The Bears' offense totaled 155 yards and nine points after the break.
"The defense played well enough to win the game," Brown said. "You hold a team like that, that's as explosive as they are, to two scores, you should win the game."
UCA was routinely behind the chains Saturday. The Bears went 3 of 17 on third-down conversions, including a turnover, with an average of 6.2 yards to gain. On third downs, UCA gained an average of 2.9 yards.
Midway through the fourth quarter, the Bears found the end zone for the first time on a 3-yard pass from quarterback Will McElvain to Jarrod Barnes. But McElvain's pass on a 2-point attempt was intercepted in the end zone to keep the score 14-12. UCA is 0 for 5 on 2-point attempts this season.
UCA got the ball back with 3:45 remaining in the fourth quarter on its own 33 with a chance to retake the lead. But on fourth down, Barnes' false start forced a punt to surrender possession. The Bears committed seven penalties for 75 yards.
Austin Peay went three-and-out to give UCA one last possession.
UCA regained possession for its final drive with 1:41 remaining and no timeouts. But just as their last drive ended, the Bears totaled just 3 yards and turned the ball over on downs after three consecutive incompletions.
"With the final possession, we felt good about it," Brown said. "Had some good play calls. We just didn't make the timely plays like we've done sometimes in the past. That's a championship-level defense. They made it tough on us all day. We had a shot when it was all said and done, but we just didn't convert."