SAN ANTONIO – Disappointing and frustrating. That is how UIW Cardinals head coach Eric Morris described the emotions of his team following a 27-23 loss to No. 24 Nicholls State (5-4, 4-3) at Benson Stadium on Saturday night.
The loss is the second straight for the Cardinals, who had a chance to win the game on the final drive but quarterback Jon Copeland was sacked by Sully Laiche. With no timeouts remaining for UIW, the clock would ultimately run out.
“The red zone has to be a huge emphasis,” Morris said after the game. “We’re not very good at it right now. Give them credit. They had a good game plan and stopped us. We’ve got to find a way to win some of these games. I thought our kids played extremely hard, fought to the end, and came up 30 yards short.”
UIW took an early 6-0 lead on a pair of field goals from Carson Mohr in the first quarter. Nicholls responded quickly thanks to the big day from running back Julien Gums. He opened the scoring for the visitors with a nine-yard touchdown run but a missed extra point attempt saw the score even at 6-6 going into the second quarter.
Copeland found C.J. Hardy on a 38-yard pass, setting up a one-yard touchdown pass to Ameer King for the 13-6 UIW lead in the second quarter. Nicholls answered right back when quarterback Chase Fourcade completed a 32-yard pass to KJ Franklin for the score, evening the game at 13 apiece. Mohr converted another field goal to briefly put the Cardinals ahead but Fourcade found a seam in the UIW defense and ran 64 yards to the end zone, putting Nicholls up 20-16 at the break.
The Cardinals’ defense stepped things up in the second half, holding Nicholls scoreless in the third quarter. UIW stopped Nicholls on big third and long plays as well as short runs, giving them a chance to win the game in the fourth quarter.
“I thought our defense did a great job of containing them and we let them loose on some big things,” Morris said. “They were close there at the end of the half, explosive at the end of the game.”
Copeland led the Cardinals downfield as he found Jaelin Campbel for 12-yard and 19-yard completions, leading to a Kevin Brown one-yard run, putting UIW up 23-20 with 7:34 left in the game. Like they had done all game, Nicholls responded back as Gums carried the ball six times for 68 yards, getting loose for big gains of 28 and 31 yards. He finished it off with a one-yard score, putting the Colonels ahead, 27-23, with 3:27 remaining in the game.
UIW had one last chance to win the game but the Cardinals decided to run despite not having any timeouts left. Copeland found Rogers for a 14-yard gain, but time expired.
“I don’t think that youth is our problem,” Morris said. “I have to do a better job as the play-caller at getting better in the red area, and we just have to tighten up some areas that are definitely flawed right now.”
The UIW Cardinals are now 5-4 (4-3, Southland) on the season and will return to the field next Saturday when they travel to face Stephen F. Austin at 4 p.m.