SAN ANTONIO - The first playoff game at the FCS level between two teams from the state of Texas was a classic, with Incarnate Word earning a 35-28 overtime win over Stephen F. Austin at Gayle & Tom Benson Stadium on Saturday.
The Cardinals advance to play No. 1 Sam Houston in the second round of the playoffs at 2 p.m. next Saturday in Huntsville.
"Emotions are pretty high right now,” UIW coach Eric Morris said. “This group has been resilient the entire year. We knew we had our hands full, but our players are battle-tested. We've found ways to win games in different ways this year, and that proved to be true again today."
"It was a heartbreaker, and that's what the playoffs are - it's a finality to your season and sometimes your career,” SFA coach Colby Carthel said. “It was two good and well-coached football teams and a great crowd. But, unfortunately, we didn't make the plays we needed to get the win."
Thankful for review
One of the most significant moments of the game for UIW came on the Lumberjacks opening drive. Sophomore Elliot Davison was called for targeting after dislodging the ball from the SFA receiver.
However, the call was overturned after review when it appeared that Davison hit the receiver in the chest. Davison made the most of his second opportunity with two interceptions for UIW. The first interception led to a touchdown, while his second interception ended a possible SFA scoring drive at the end of regulation.
"Elliott is a great player, and he's come a long way for us,” Morris said. “Last year, we thought we had safeties who were going to be our starters, and he proved us wrong. I don't know how close the call was, but he's a huge part of our defense, and we needed him against them today."
A big man rip
Another critical moment in the game was provided by SFA defensive tackle Rayshad Nichols, who stripped UIW quarterback Cameron Ward of the ball and raced 32 yards for a touchdown that gave SFA its first lead of the game in the fourth quarter.
"I thought the clock was going to run out in the fourth quarter by the time he scored,” Carthel joked. “That was awesome, and I said in the locker room we should've been handing him the ball all year long. He has one touch and one touchdown."
"We felt the energy of the game change when I got that strip-sack, and that got the defense wrapped up a bit more,” Nichols added.
"They rip the ball from us and score a touchdown but we responded,” UIW coach Eric Morris said. “That's what this team is about - we have a lot of fight and a lot of character we've built throughout this year."
"When their d-lineman ripped the ball out of our hands and scored a touchdown, I looked at all the other guys on defense, and they were ready to ball and prove that we're the best defense in FCS right now,” UIW linebacker Kelechi Anyalebechi said.
Plenty of weapons
It’s no secret that the UIW offense has a tremendous amount of weapons, and on Saturday, Taylor Grimes turned to shine again.
The junior from Godly, Texas, caught ten passes for 118 yards and three touchdowns. Senior wide receiver Robert Ferrel added 100 yards receiving on 14 receptions for UIW.
"Their d-line is the best we've faced all year,” Morris said. “They have about eight guys they rotate and do a phenomenal job of getting pressure on the quarterback. We knew we had to rely on quick passes today and use tempo to keep them off balance."
"They're the best defense we've played all year, and our receivers know my playmaking ability and are good on the scramble drill, so having key pieces like those are huge for us going forward,” Ward said.
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