SAN ANTONIO – For the second straight game, UIW held a lead at home in the fourth quarter against a Southland Conference opponent.
And for the second straight game, the Cardinals walked away without a win.
Despite another 300-yard performance from quarterback Jon Copeland and a positive turnover differential, UIW fell to No. 24 Nicholls State on Military Appreciation Day Saturday afternoon. It's the first time the Cardinals have lost back-to-back games this season, and just the second time under head coach Eric Morris.
"The narrative of this game is that on offense we were not good in the red zone," Morris said. "This team just has to learn to play better together. It seems like every time our defense gets a little momentum, we don't capitalize on offense, and then vise versa. Red zone has to be a huge emphasis."
The Cardinals had two prime opportunities to score in the first quarter. On their opening drive, UIW drove 73 yards on 13 plays, but settled for a field goal. After their special teams unit delivered with a blocked punt, the Cardinal offense again stalled in the red zone and trotted out freshman kicker Carson Mohr for a 40-yard attempt. Mohr finished his afternoon 3-for-3.
Instead of forging a dominant 14-0 start, UIW led 6-0 midway through the first quarter. The Colonels would tie the game on the ensuing drive, and both teams traded scores over the remainder of the first half. Nicholls walked off the field at halftime with a 20-16 advantage.
The Cardinals regained the lead in the fourth quarter, capitalizing on a fumble recovery with a six-play, 74-yard touchdown drive. Junior running back Kevin Brown scored from a yard out to give the home team a 23-20 lead. Nicholls responded from a similar drive of their own, marching 74 yards on nine plays to take a 27-23 lead with 3:27 left to play. The Cardinals drove into Colonels territory on the ensuing drive, but ultimately came up short as time expired.
"Extremely frustrated in how the games are going down the stretch," Morris said. "We're not finding a way to win them. We got a bunch of young guys out there playing, and I thought our young guys stepped up and made plays there towards the end. You've got a bunch of freshmen out there catching balls. I don't think that youth is our problem. I have to do a better job as the play caller at getting better in the red area, and we just have to tighten up some areas that are definitely flawed right now."
Copeland finished the game with 381 passing yards and a touchdown. His main target, CJ Hardy, hauled in seven passes for 102 yards. Brown accounted for 59 yards and a score on nine carries.
The Cardinals will next begin a two-game road trip in Nacogdoches against Stephen F. Austin on Saturday at 4 p.m.