J. Frank Parnell: Tigers Fumble Shot in NCAA Division II Playoffs


By J. Frank Parnell

The Sports Desk is a big fan of Cliff Harris Stadium. Two trips the last two football seasons have yielded four overtime sessions.

We saw another thriller Saturday in the second round of the NCAA Division II playoffs.

The Ouachita Baptist University Tigers weathered the elements and almost kept the Bulldogs of the University of Minnesota Duluth at bay in Arkadelphia, but they beat themselves with turnovers, dropped passes and poor play on special teams.

After the Tigers booted a 37-yard field goal in overtime to lead 45-42, the Bulldogs completed a 9-yard throw to quarterback Drew Bauer for a 48-45 victory.

The wind was as much a part of the game as the play of the teams. It gusted from the west all afternoon and played havoc with passes, punts and kickoffs. It blew the ball off the tee during kickoffs at least eight times. Just check the punting statistics: Duluth kicked six times for a 26-yard average (including a 59-yarder); OBU averaged just 31 yards.

The wind and kicking came into play with Duluth facing fourth down and 14 yards to go from its 2-yard line late in the fourth quarter. A punt into the wind was downed at the 13.

Ouachita took quick advantage. With 5:54 to play in regulation, Steven Kehner ran 4 yards to give OBU a 39-35 lead (a try for 2 points failed). It was his fifth TD of the day.

One of OBU’s mistakes on special teams was a blocked extra-point attempt at the beginning of the fourth quarter that would have tied the score at 28. The Tigers later failed twice on 2-point attempts, although defensive pass interference could have been called on both plays.

But the miscues that tamed the Tigers were fumbles on back-to-back, fourth-quarter drives. Ouachita appeared to have the game in hand with time winding down and Duluth punting from its 17-yard line. The wind knocked down the punt and Ouachita started a drive at the Duluth 41, but Brandon Marks coughed up the ball at the Duluth 16 after sprinting around right end.

The Tigers stopped the Bulldogs but Kehner immediately gave the ball back at the Duluth 26 on the first play of Ouachita’s drive.

Ouachita couldn’t survive the second fumble.

Duluth regained the lead, 42-39, on a TD pass with 45 seconds to go, capping an 11-play drive.

After a Duluth kickoff into the steady wind, senior quarterback Kiehl Frazier drove the Tigers 58 yards and freshman Shelton Wooley hit a 20-yard field goal to tie it at 42 and set up overtime.

Another Ouachita special teams breakdown came in the first quarter after Ouachita took a 7-0 lead on a 57-yard run by Kehner. Beau Bofferding took the ensuing kickoff at the 3 and returned it to the Ouachita 1. Logan Lauters scored two plays later.

The wind didn’t alter the direction of Lauters — he broke tackles and tunneled through linemen 32 times for 161 yards and three touchdowns.

The visitors from Minnesota enjoyed the balmy weather. Many of the 200 or so Bulldogs fans were wearing shorts. Duluth, which beat Northwest Missouri State University 25-21 in the first round of the NCAA Division II playoffs, is 13-0. The Bulldogs will play Minnesota State University Saturday in Mankato, Minn. The teams are rivals in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference.

The Tigers, undefeated in the Great American Conference, finished the season 10-1.

Ouachita Loses Heartbreaker in NCAA Division II playoffs


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