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Bears lose heartbreaker in home opener

Sept. 2, 2003

By Matt Richards, reporter

Despite taking a 19-17 lead following a blocked punt for a safety and field goal halfway through the fourth quarter, the Bears dropped their home opener against the University of Alabama at Birmingham 24-19. The loss leaves the Bears at 0-1 thus far for the 2003 season.

The defining play of the game came with less than a minute left when Alabama sophomore quarterback Darrell Hackney completed two passes for 80 yards and a touchdown in only 22 seconds.

Hackney entered the game as a highly touted quarterback, earning 2002 Conference USA Freshman of the Year but was hobbled by a swollen knee after a hard hit early in the fourth quarter. The back-to-back pass plays sealed the victory for UAB and left many of Baylor's faithful fans stunned.

'We played our basic man coverage that we work on 99 percent of the time,' head Coach Guy Morriss said. 'On the first [pass play] we actually had him double covered and on the second one I thought we just got out-athleted.'

The victory seemed to slip just out of the Bears' hands. Baylor was unable to get the second of two first downs that would have sealed the victory following a fourth-and-inches stop at midfield. The drive was hampered by an illegal substitution penalty with two minutes remaining that forced the Bears to begin with a first and 15. Baylor was then forced to punt.

The defeat left many on the team frustrated but Morriss excited, primarily because the team remained competitive all the way to the end.

'From a mental standpoint we took a big step forward,' Morriss said. 'We've been talking all camp long about taking the game deep into the fourth quarter, and that's what we did.'

There were many individual players that boosted the Bears' chance to win. Junior quarterback Aaron Karas played a steady game, completing 20 of 33 passing attempts for 227 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.

The standout of the night was clearly senior running back Rashad Armstrong who ran for a career high 152 yards and an average of 6.1 yards per carry.

'He told me this summer he's the best running back we had, and he showed it tonight,' Morriss said. 'I think he's a kid that's really committed himself to our way of doing it.'

In only his first game as a Bear, redshirt freshman James Todd forced a safety on special teams after blocking a punt into the end zone. Freshman tight end Iris Williams caught three balls for 31 yards, including a 13-yard touchdown pass late in the third quarter to make the game 17-14.

Junior fullback Jonathan Evans contributed in the backfield and receiving, catching 3 passes for 24 yards and running five times for 14 yards. Evans said he was pleased with the progress the team has made under the new staff.

'We've gotten much better,' Evans said. 'We came together much more than we have in the years past. The whole two-a-days setting where we were locked up in the dorms and got to know each other, and even though we lost tonight, we played hard.'

But after swallowing this difficult loss, the Bears will look for their first victory of the season against the University of North Texas this weekend in Denton.

'We're just so close to turning it around,' Karas said. 'We're going to keep fighting. We can't let something like this get us down.'