Art Lawler Staff Writer firstname.lastname@example.org
East Central had all the tangibles necessary to extend its winning streak to four-in-a-row.
A good crowd was on hand to see a celebration of the ECU football class of 1963 — the first year of football integration at the school.
About a dozen black players returned to be re-introduced to their hometown fans.
Parents of seniors showed up to see their sons play for the last time on Norris Field.
But the good feelings faded quickly when the Tigers failed to show up mentally to play Arkansas Tech.
Down 17-0 early, the Tigers fought an uphill game the rest of the way and wound up losing 26-17.
On paper, the tangibles once again favored the Tigers. Quarterback Spencer Bond threw for 450 yards and two touchdowns.
The Tigers also had 93 rushing yards and 543 yards of total offense to the Wonder Boys’ 355 total yards.
The Tigers had 30 first downs to 25 for the Wonder Boys.
Why didn’t they win?
Well, Bond was picked off a handful of times. That's five, if you've still got all your digits. Plus, he also lost a fumble.
His picks stopped promising drives and kept the Tigers playing catchup ball all afternoon.
Perhaps more important was a serious injury to Drevon Kaywaykla, a freshman from Elgin. The Tigers' tight end was in obvious pain and was undergoing surgery for a broken hip at press time.
At one point, the entire football team walked onto the field and took a knee around their teammate. Play was stopped for a good 20 minutes because of the injury.
As for the game problems, coach Tim McCarty said, "We let them dictate the flow of the game, and we weren't able to play our game because we were always trying to catch up.”
Good as Bond's numbers were, he had to throw the ball 58 times. He completed 29 of those for his 450 yards.
But the picks halted the Tigers' progress all afternoon.
"We always blame the quarterback," McCarty said, "But we had a lot of dropped balls by our receivers, and our offense just made too many mistakes."
McCarty was disappointed in the entire offensive unit's play. It began early when Bond, throwing across the field, was picked off by Shai Kobayashi to help put the Wonder Boys on a roll.
Justin Owen scored from the 3 just four plays later for a 7-0 Tech lead.
Six plays into the following ECU series, Bond was picked off again by the same guy, Kobayashi, at the ATU 37. The Wonder Boys put together an 11-play scoring drive, with Justin Owen scoring from a yard out with 3:36 left in the first quarter.
Randy Velazquez's field goal at 10:47 of the first half put the Wonder Boys up, 17-0.
ECU didn't get on the scoreboard until Trevor Hunt connected from 30 yards out at the buzzer, making it 17-3 at halftime.
Tech got that field goal back at 9:41 of the third with a 25-yard Velazquez field goal for a 20-3 Tech lead.
East Central played its best football of the day, following a 25-yard return by LaQuan Harper return of a short kickoff.
That put the ball on the ATU 49, and seven plays later, Bond hit Caleb Holley for a 26-yard-touchdown. Holley broke out of a gang of tacklers to muscle his way the final yards.
With the score at 20-10, Tiger fans sensed a comeback. When Preston Conder was thrown for a seven-yard loss at the ATU 18 and fumbled, allowing Garrett Martin to recover at the Wonder Boys 13, the crowd knew the comeback was on.
Snell rushed for three and eight yards, and Bond completed a two-yard pass in the left corner of the end zone for the touchdown to Holley for the score that closed the gap to 20-17.
But Arkansas Tech, utilizing the short passing game and the occasional thrusts up the middle by Ketrich Harmon and Justin Owen put the ball in the end zone after a 14-play, 97-yard drive.
There were still almost 12 minutes to play, but Bond was intercepted at the ATU 31 by Deandre Bonner.
The game's final drive by ECU featured a nice hook and lateral from Bond to Snell, good for 36 yards, but then the clock ran out on the game and the Tigers.