WARRENSBURG — The UCM Mules were on track to upset the No. 3 Northwest Missouri Bearcats on Saturday at Walton Stadium/Kennedy Field, but UCM turnovers and big plays for the Bearcats helped complete a 17-point comeback in a 34-30 loss for UCM.
It’s the 12th time in the past 13 meetings that the Bearcats have come out on top. UCM hasn’t beaten NWMSU since a 31-21 win at home in 2012.
“It hurts,” said UCM quarterback Garrett Fugate. “… We made enough plays to win the game. When it mattered we couldn’t come up with the last big play.”
UCM had a chance to run out the clock with a 30-27 lead when it forced the Bearcats to punt and started a drive at its own 39-yard line with 3:31 remaining.
On a third-and-2, Markel Smith was stopped for no gain to force UCM to punt.
NWMSU had 2:21 to go 73 yards to take the lead and it completed that task in five plays.
Brady Bolles found Cameron Wilcox for 28 yards and then completed a 19-yard pass to Shawn Bane, who got out of bounds to stop the clock.
Wilcox then had a 19-yard reception and two plays later Bolles ran up the middle on a quarterback draw to easily score from seven yards out to put the Bearcats up 34-30 with 33.7 seconds remaining.
“They got us on our heels, they made a couple of plays,” said UCM head coach Jim Svoboda. “… We pretty much had the upper hand on them all day until the last drive of the game and that’s the one that counted.”
Fugate completed a 16-yard pass to Jaylen Zachery to start the ensuing drive, but Edward Richey intercepted Fugate’s pass in the middle of the field to deny UCM the upset bid.
“No moral victories,” Svoboda said. “Clearly we had eight or nine or 10 chances to win the game, put the game away. The kids tried hard but just trying hard doesn’t win you games.”
The only other times NWMSU led were after a field goal in the first quarter to make it 3-0 and after another field goal in the second quarter to make it 6-3.
The UCM defense intercepted three passes and recovered a fumble to help build its lead to 23-6.
Jackson Newman intercepted Bolles late in the second quarter and it led to a 11-yard touchdown pass from Fugate to a wide open Jordan Keeney in the end zone with 24 seconds remaining in the first half.
The extra point was blocked to keep the score 9-6 Mules at halftime.
Kadarius Green got the second half started with a bang for UCM when he leaped in the air to snag an interception deep down the field on the Bearcats’ second play of the half.
“I thought the defense played great all day until the last drive,” Svoboda said. “We did a great job against their run and we had them off balance. The score isn’t indicative at all of how our defense played.”
UCM capped off the ensuing drive with a 28-yard touchdown pass to Zachery, who won the battle for a jump ball in the end zone to extend UCM’s lead to 16-6.
Later in the third quarter, Austin Miller recovered a fumble at the NWMSU 32-yard line.
A Markel Smith run of 16 yards set up UCM inside the 10-yard line and two plays later Fugate ran outside to the right, dove and extended the ball across the goal line before his knee touched the ground.
The score put UCM up 23-6 with 8:17 remaining in the third quarter.
The third quarter didn’t end well for UCM as a fumble deep inside UCM territory led to a touchdown pass for Bolles to get NWMSU within 10 and a blocked punt put the Bearcats five yard from the end zone and a touchdown run cut UCM’s lead to three with less than 30 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
Sam Smith gave UCM its third interception of the game on the Bearcats’ first drive on the fourth quarter, but a drive that started 24 yards from the end zone ended with a punt on fourth-and-36.
UCM did take a 30-20 lead in the fourth quarter on a 28-yard touchdown pass to Ian Toalson, but NWMSU answered with a 66-yard touchdown pass to make it 30-27.
Fugate completed 20 of his 41 attempts for three touchdowns and an interception. He ran for 43 yards and two scores.
Zachery had five catches for 75 yards with a score. Smith led UCM in rushing with 53 yards on 14 carries.
UCM (1-2) will play at Nebraska-Kearney next week. UNK’s head coach was the UCM offensive coordinator from 2010-14.
Jason Strickland can be reached at 660-530-0147 or on Twitter @J_Strick_Sports.