By BRIAN RAMSEY | OBU Sports Network
ARKADELPHIA — The Ouachita Baptist University football team clinched at least a share of the 2022 Great American Conference Championship on Thursday night with a come-from-behind 28-18 win over East Central University.
Ouachita (9-0) used a pair of interceptions late in the fourth quarter to its advantage, with TJ Cole scoring touchdowns at the 1:56 mark and the 1:33 mark to preserve the team’s perfect season. Cole finished with 22 carries for 103 yards with three touchdowns, setting a new school record for career touchdowns with a new total of 44. He broke Brockton Brown’s record of 43 that was set from 2016-19.
ECU (6-3) took its first lead of the game with 6:50 remaining in the fourth quarter at the end of 12-play drive that used 6:27.
Andrew Hayes came up with the first interception after ECU was backed up to its own three-yard line on a 60-yard punt by Joe Couch. Hayes picked off ECU quarterback Kenny Hrncir with 5:08 remaining, and six rushes later by Cole, the purple Tigers regained the lead at 21-18 with 1:56 remaining.
On ECU’s ensuing possession, Hrncir was picked off on the first play by Ouachita’s Mario Ganter, Jr., who returned the pick down to ECU’s three-yard line. That set up Cole for his record-breaking touchdown, giving the Tigers their final lead with 1:33 remaining.
The Ouachita defense came up big on ECU’s first play on the ensuing possession. Anthony Freeman busted through his blocker to sack Hrncir and put ECU behind the sticks. Ouachita forced a turnover on downs on that possession to set up the kneel down for the victory.
Ouachita’s defense was dominant in the first half, forcing ECU to punt twice and go for field goals on the other three drives. ECU kicker Alexis Lopez went 2-for-3 on those kicks, connecting on 49 and 45-yard field goals, and missing a 35-yard kick as time expired in the first half to give Ouachita a 14-6 lead at the break.
The purple Tigers found the scoreboard first in the game with Cole’s first touchdown, this time from 20 yards out with 7:01 remaining in the first quarter to cap a three-play, 78-yard drive that used just 1:12. Cole was responsible for all 78 yards on that drive after also catching a pass for 58 yards from Riley Harms.
After ECU’s Lopez made his two field goals in the second quarter, Ouachita extended its lead to 14-6 on an eight-yard touchdown run by Harms to cap a nine-play, 75-yard drive that used 2:39.
Ouachita had three defenders end the game in double digits in the tackles category. Josiah Johnson led the way with 12. Dawson Miller and Ty Compton each had 11. Ouachita had eight tackles for a combined loss of 22 yards in the win, and three sacks for a combined loss of 15 yards.
Ouachita honored its 18 seniors prior to the game, which was the team’s final home game of the regular season. This year’s senior class is now responsible for 50 wins over the past five seasons. The 2022 class includes, in alphabetical order: Grant Allen, Anthony Chairez, TJ Cole, Ty Compton, Tommy Crumpton III, Justin Dean, Trey Flint, Anthony Freeman, Jax Gasaway, Terrell Gibson, Hunter Jackson, Jason Jackson, Mason Martin, Clayton Nelson, Peyton Stafford, Hunter Swoboda, and Josh Wallace. The Tigers also honored the late Clark Yarbrough as part of this year’s senior class.
The GAC championship is Ouachita’s sixth in the 11-year history of the league, and 12th overall conference championship including six Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference titles.
Thursday’s win also gave Ouachita its eighth season of at least nine wins.
The Tigers continue their stretch of three games against teams with winning records to close out of the regular season next Saturday, November 5 on the road against Southeastern Oklahoma State.