Late 2-point try fails, ends comeback

CONWAY -- Moments after Tarleton State quarterback Victor Gabalis' knee met the rain-soaked purple and gray turf, putting to bed a 25-23 win over the University of Central Arkansas on Saturday night at Estes Stadium, the Bears' players stood stunned near midfield.

The Bears, who entered ranked No. 18 in the FCS, fought from 12 points down early in the fourth quarter to place the game on a make-or-break 2-point conversion attempt to force overtime.

But pressure off the right side of the Texans' defense sent UCA quarterback Will McElvain scrambling, eventually throwing up a prayer of a pass that fell quietly to the turf.

"They just took away our first read," UCA Coach Nathan Brown said. "It's one of those plays where, unfortunately for us, they were able to get to Will. I think if he could have danced around a little more and had a little more time, he probably would have found somebody.

"I don't know what our 2-point rate is right now, it's not very good. We've got to figure that out as an offensive staff."

The Bears are 0-4 on 2-point conversion attempts this season, including Saturday's. They had three failed attempts in the Oct. 7 game against Southeast Missouri State.

UCA (5-3, 2-1 United Athletic Conference) began the game the same way its other two games in October: quiet on offense.

The Bears were held to 21 yards in the first quarter and 1.8 yards per play, while the Texans (6-3, 2-2) took a 3-0 lead on a 22-yard field goal by Adrian Guzman.

UCA answered with a 15-yard touchdown pass from McElvain to tight end Jordan Owens. But Tarleton State ccame back with a Guzman field goal and a 38-yard touchdown run by running back Kayvon Britten to take a 13-7 lead.

On the final play of the first half, Tarleton State's Bryson Collins blocked a 21-yard field-goal attempt by UCA's Jake Gaster on fourth and 3 to keep the six-point lead at halftime.

"We lost by two, and that was in probably the hardest rain of the night," Brown said. "Unfortunately, when we called that, I actually thought about going for it. In hindsight, maybe should have. But we've got to block it up and give Jake a chance to put it through the uprights."

Gaster and Guzman traded third-quarter field goals before Tarleton State scored on a 59-yard touchdown run up the seam for Britten to make it 22-10 with 14:13 remaining.

Britten was the offensive star for the Texans, rushing for 156 yards and 2 touchdowns on 22 carries. As a team, Tarleton State rushed for 208 yards to UCA's 171.

UCA scored on its next drive with a 19-yard pass to Kylin James to make it 22-17.

Both teams punted on their next drives before Tarleton took over with 7:05 to play. The Texans drove 45 yards on nine plays to kick a 36-yard field goal with 2:05 remaining and a 25-17 lead.

On that drive, Gabalis completed a pass to Darius Cooper for 28 yards on a third and 5, extending the drive more than two minutes.

Tarleton State converted on 10 of 17 third-down plays, routinely elongating drives and burning precious cloc. Gabalis was responsible for four of those third downs with passes and another two with runs.

"That's probably what lost the game," Brown said. "Early on, they made the decision that on a lot of their third-down-and-long stuff, they were going to run their quarterback, and he did a great job."

UCA defensive end David Walker led a front that stopped Gabalis on some of those rushing attempts late in the game as the Bears adjusted their scheme. Walker set the UCA single-game record with 6 1/2 tackles for loss, breaking Icsom Jones' record of 5, set in 2003 against Ouachita Baptist.

On what would be its final offensive drive, UCA drove 72 yards in 1:45, scoring on a 3-yard pass from McElvain to Owens.

With three games left on their schedule, Saturday's loss doesn't sink the Bears hopes at a conference title or a playoff berth. But it does make the need for wins in November that much higher.

"I told our guys to remember the feeling [of] watching Tarleton State celebrate and let it fuel you," Brown said. "That's all you can do. Bottom line is the UCA Bears control their own destiny. ... Our players have got to believe that we'll be better for this. And they do, and we can turn the page, then we'll have a really good three-game stretch here that I'm looking forward to."

"I'm thankful we've done enough to control our own destiny," McElvain said. "Next week, we got to get past it. If we win the next three games, I don't think there's any way an 8-3 team doesn't get in the playoffs, and that's obviously the end goal."