Cardinals come back to win homecoming

Playing for the first time ever on a Sunday due to a weather postponement Saturday, the Cardinals came from behind to beat visiting Abilene Christian University 25-20.

Quarterback Trent Brittain led the 4-3 Cardinals to their fourth comeback win of the season, all taking place at home in Gayle and Tom Benson Stadium. But the homecoming win boosted the team’s hopes when they travel to Stephen F. Austin University Saturday, Oct. 31.

Trailing 20-19 Sunday with 3:25 remaining in the game, Brittain directed the Cardinals on a 76-yard scoring drive capped by Junior Sessions’ 15-yard touchdown run with 48 seconds remaining. The Cardinals’ two-point conversion attempt failed, giving the Wildcats (2-5, 2-4) one last chance for victory. ACU moved the ball to midfield, but their “Hail Mary” throw was intercepted by Robert Johnson.

This was the third time this season that Brittain has led the Cardinals on a go-ahead scoring drive in the fourth quarter. And it was the second time he has led the Cardinals to a dramatic, last-minute win over the Wildcats as he accomplished the same feat in 2013.

The UIW offense moved the ball on the ground and through the air all game long thanks to an offensive line that kept the pocket clean for Brittain and opened holes for Sessions. The Cardinals gained a school record 593 yards and picked up 27 first downs in the game. However, fans also saw a pair of first-half turnovers and some dropped passes.

The Cardinals scored on the opening drive. Playing under sunny and windy skies on a day reserved mostly for NFL-watching, Brittain directed the offense 89 yards in 14 plays before Sessions plunged one yard for a touchdown. The team converted three third downs on the drive, including a 21-yard pass from Brittain to Clint Killough that put the ball in scoring position. Then Killough caught another 24-yard pass to get to the 1-yard line.

After trading punts, the Cardinals embarked on another long scoring drive. This time they went 78 yards in 11 plays, but stalled out at the ACU 13-yard line and were forced to settle for Cody Seidel’s 30-yard field goal with 13:25 left in the second quarter.

On their next drive, it looked like the Cardinals were going to put some more points on the board, but a fumble forced by Robert Griffin III and recovered by Rishaad Wimbley stopped UIW in the Red Zone.

The Wildcats finally got their offense going late in the second quarter, driving 66 yards in the final 3:02 of the half and getting a 28-yard field goal from Zach Lehr as the halftime gun sounded to make it 10-3 in favor of the Cardinals.

Just 12 seconds into the third quarter, ACU’s De’Andre Brown took a direct snap and ran around left end for a 70-yard touchdown run to tie the game.

The Cardinals attempted a 53-yard field goal on their next drive, but Ramon Coto’s attempt fell short giving ACU the ball back in good field position. The Wildcats took advantage and quickly moved into UIW territory. It looked like they had a touchdown when they ran a reverse pass from wide receiver Monte Green-Avery who tossed a pass to a wide-open receiver that was dropped. ACU would get into scoring range, but had to settle for a 32-yard field goal from Lehr with 8:44 left in the third quarter.

The Cardinals would reclaim the lead on their next drive. Sessions rumbled 46 yards to get things started and then Brittain capped it off with a four-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Hicks with 5:07 left in the quarter. However, ACU’s Lynn Grady blocked the extra point to keep UIW’s score at 16-13.

The score would not stay that way long.  After a touchback on the kickoff, ACU’s Dallas Sealey faked like he was going to run the ball and then stepped back and threw a pass to Carl Whitley who went 75 yards for a touchdown to take a 20-16 lead with 4.57 left in the third quarter.

UIW followed that with a long drive covering 15 plays and 72 yards that was stopped at the ACU 5-yard line. The Cardinals settled for a 22-yard field goal from Seidel to make it 20-19 early in the fourth quarter.

The Cardinals had a chance to take the lead on their next drive, but Coto’s 36-yard field goal try was blocked by Josh Bloom with 9:45 remaining in the game.

The Wildcats tried to put the game away on the ensuing drive. They picked up three first downs, including a 23-yard pass to Cedric Gilbert on third down that moved them into scoring position. Facing fourth-and-3 at the UIW 24, they elected to go for the first down, but UIW’s Darrius Montgomery came up with the biggest play of the game for the defense by knocking down the attempted screen pass to give the ball back to the Cardinals with 3:25 left to play and the climatic comeback.

The Cardinals finished with 225 yards on the ground and a school record 368 through the air.  Brittain finished the game 22-of-45 for 368 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Kody Edwards had seven catches for 128 yards while Killough finished with five grabs for 117 yards, thus becoming the first UIW duo in school history to each go over 100 yards in the same game. Hicks added four catches for 62 yards and a score.

Sessions led the ground attack with a career-high 174 yards and two touchdowns. He also had two catches for 35 yards, giving him a total of 209 all-purpose yards. The team converted 10-of-16 third-down attempts.

Other than the two ACU long plays, UIW’s defense played well. Senior linebacker Myke Tavarres had 11 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, two quarterback hurries and a pass breakup. Alex Jenkins added 1.5 sacks while Kobie Douglas had three pass breakups.

The Wildcats had 380 total yards of offense with 111 on the ground and 269 through the air. Brown finished with 109 rushing yards on 17 carries. Parker McKenzie was 11-of-19 for 95 yards passing while Sealey finished 11-of-16 for 174 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Brown led his team with six catches for 41 yards, but eight different players had at least one catch. Sam Denmark led the Wildcats defense with 11 tackles and a half tackle for loss. Overall they forced three fumbles. Jabari Butler had three pass breakups and an interception.

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