Missed opportunities plague Lions

In Saturday’s Homecoming game, the Lions could not overcome missed opportunities and mistakes at crucial moments in a 34-14 loss to the No. 14 University of Central Arkansas Bears.
For the Lions (3-5, 3-1 SLC), it was their first loss in conference play and for the Bears (7-2, 5-1 SLC) it moves them in to the driver seat in  the Southland Conference (SLC).  
“There were way too many missed opportunities; if you get those opportunities you have to make the play,” said head coach Ron Roberts. “If we make those catches, make those blocks and catch those interceptions, it’s a completely different ball game.”
The Lions opened the game with a 45-yard bomb from junior wide receiver Tony McCrea to tight end Chris Mallot, but that would be the highlight of the half for the Lions as the Bears turned up the heat and ended the drive.
The Bears’ opening possession lasted 15 plays as junior quarterback Wynrick Smothers completed eight passes before running back Jackie Hinton found the end zone on a 12-yard run with 8:25 left in the first quarter giving UCA a 7-0 lead.
Through the remainder of the first quarter both teams remained scoreless as the Lions dropped passes continued to plague them. UCA managed to get things back together as the Bears found the end zone again early in the second quarter when Smothers completed a 7-yard pass to Chase Dixon with just over 8:00 left in the half, going into the locker room on top 14-0.
“For whatever reason, I don’t know if it was the anxiety of the game, but we go in there and can’t even communicate,” said Roberts.
Out of halftime, UCA came out firing on all cylinders as Smothers found wide receiver Jesse Grandy on a 60-yard touchdown less than a minute into the third quarter, giving UCA a 21-0 lead.
“They made plays, they have some talented receivers,” said Roberts.
Facing an uphill battle, the Lions gathered themselves together and responded with a 9 play, 71 yard drive highlighted by freshman running back Xavier Roberson’s 36-yard run into UCA territory and McCrea’s 9-yard touchdown catch from Stanley with 11:23 remaining in the third quarter.  
With the offense showing signs of life, the defense rallied after a sack by Aaron Harris brought an end to UCA’s ensuing drive.
“We knew our backs were against the wall, so we executed and did our job,” said senior linebacker Devan Walker.
Momentum shifted in the Lions’ favor in the second half. The ensuing possession was a crucial one that started when Stanley completed a 14-yard pass to senior defensive back Robert Alford, who saw action on both sides of the ball.
Southeastern continued to drive into Bear territory until Stanley was intercepted at the Bears’ 15-yard line. The Lions would show their resiliency as the defense held for the second straight drive, and Stanley had another shot right near the end of the third quarter. With less than a minute remaining, Stanley found Roberson in the left corner of the end zone on a 20-yard pass cutting the deficit to 21-14.
“At 21-14, we were right in the thick of things,” said Roberts. “I thought we had the momentum.”
The Lions managed to hold UCA to a field goal on their next drive as kicker Eddie Camara’s 26-yard attempt gave UCA a 24-14 lead with 11:53 remaining.
The next drive was one that changed the course of the game. On third and 10, Stanley completed a 38-yard pass to McCrea moving into Bear territory, but an unfortunate chop block penalty by senior running back Blaine LeBlanc cost the Lions 15 yards and stalled the drive.
UCA responded with a quick touchdown as Smothers found Grandy on a 48-yard strike with 9:41 remaining. The score was Smothers third touchdown pass of the game and gave the Bears a 31-14 lead that they would ride out to victory.
The loss makes the Lions one of three teams with one loss in conference play setting up a crucial game versus defending champs Sam Houston State, who sit at 4-1 in the conference. A win will keep the Lions in contention for the SLC title.
“We have one loss and everybody else does too, so it depends on what we want to do,” said Roberts. “If we want to compete for this thing, we’re right in the thick of things. It’s no reason for us not to go out and play great, but we just can’t play like we played tonight.”