ARKADELPHIA -- It had been 656 days since a Ouachita Baptist football player got to claim the Turnover Belt, and it could not have come at a better time for sophomore Andrew Hayes Thursday night.
With the Tigers (1-0) leading 38-31 and Oklahoma Baptist driving deep into purple territory, Bison redshirt senior quarterback Preston Haire got the ball to the Ouachita 24, spiking the ball to stop the clock with 44.8 seconds left in the game.
Haire, who had gone 36-for-51 passing for 345 yards to that point, sent out five receivers, and Hayes lined up to cover redshirt freshman Julian Clarke.
"What's (going) through my head is, 'They're driving; they're driving,' and I'm thinking, I'm thinking, 'Put on more steam,'" Hayes said after the game. "I'm thinking, 'Alright, this is where we show our colors. This is where we got to go all the way to the wall, and then I've just got to keep trying harder and harder each play.'"
As Clarke started to cut back in, Hayes saw that Haire was releasing the ball, so he quickly adjusted his trajectory and snagged the ball with 39.4 seconds left to put the Tigers in victory formation.
"He ran the slant; I'm clamping on," Hayes said. "Anything could happen with Preston here, so I'm looking through the one, through to the QB. I'm seeing Preston staring down the slant. The receiver peels off for whatever reason. He thinks they're in a scramble drill, I guess. But as he's pulling off, I see Preston throwing it. So I peel off. I just get the slant, catch it, and it's a fantastic feeling bringing it in for the team."
Leading up to the play, Hayes felt that he had not turned in his best performance. His five solo tackles left him tied for second on the team while he had the most pass breakups.
"Personally, I was not having a good game in my eyes," he said. "I was having a bad game. I was not holding up to my standards, and my teammates were just giving me more courage. They kept feeding me positivity. Nobody was giving me any negativity; they held me up. So finally, being able to grab this for the team felt like I was able to pay them back the same way they paid me the entire game."
Tigers head coach Todd Knight said that Hayes was challenged by one of the members of the coaching staff to step things up in the final minutes of the game.
"I'll tell you what, coach challenged him a little bit," he said. "He's a really good player for us, and we felt like we're playing off a little bit. And coach challenged him, and he got into he got in their face and made the play."
The Tigers opened the game with freshman Xaylon Falls running the back the initial kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown before holding the Bison to seven yards on their initial drive. Ouachita then used a 10-play drive that burned 4:16 off the clock to go 48 yards for their second score, a single-yard rush by freshman Kendel Givens.
"I knew they were going to respond," Knight said. "I mean, they got the (2019 Offensive) Player of the Year at quarterback. I knew they weren't going to fold that -- I mean, they finished fourth. ... In 2019, they opened with Henderson. Henderson was up by 21, and it came down to an onside kick. I mean, we were prepared for that kind of game."
Knight had nothing but praise for defensive coordinator Roy Thompson Jr. and offensive coordinator Jay Derby after the game.
"We started making plays," he said. "We started jamming people. I think Roy made some great adjustments, especially going into third or fourth quarter. ... I've got to give a lot of credit to coach Derby, too, on offense. Everybody in those stands, including half the bench over there, wants to throw out of that situation. He stuck to his knitting. We ran the football, and we did what we had to do to win the football game."
The Tigers travel to Bethany, Okla., on Sept. 11 to face the Crimson Storm of Southern Nazarene at 1 p.m. The Bison host Arkansas-Monticello at 6 p.m. in Shawnee, Okla.
OUA—Xaylon Falls 93 kickoff return (Gabe Goodman kick), 14:46.
OUA—Kendel Givens 1 run (Goodman kick), 9:17.
OKB—Keilahn Harris 2 pass from Preston Haire (Guillermo Garcia Rodriguez kick), 6:09.
OKB—Josh Cornell 25 pass from Haire (kick failed), 3:08.
OUA—Goodman 26 field goal, 0:39.
OKB—Leonardo Schulz 26 field goal, 0:00.
OKB—Rueben Thompson 9 run (Shulz kick), 12:14.
OUA—Givens 3 run (Goodman kick), 0:33.
OKB—Harris 6 pass from Haire (Tyler Stuever run), 13:19.
OUA—T.J. Cole 27 run (Goodman kick), 8:09.
OUA—Givens 5 run (Goodman kick), 3:11.
Time of possession;27:03;32:57
Rushing — Oklahoma Baptist, Tyler Stuever 17-81, Rueben Thompson 5-25, Preston Haire 5-37, Keilahn Harris 1-8. Ouachita Baptist, T.J. Cole 21-151, Kendel Givens 17-74, Grant Allen 7-47, Xaylon Falls 3-(minus 3).
Passing — Oklahoma Baptist, Haire 36-52-1-345. Ouachita Baptist, Allen 8-15-0-94.
Receiving — Oklahoma Baptist, Josh Cornell 11-134, Harris 15-121, Julian Clarke 3-63, Seth Medina 2-13, Shae Garner 2-8, Stuever 2-6, Braden Phipps 1-0. Ouachita Baptist, Connor Flannigan 5-44, Justin Dean 1-35, Hayden Waller 1-19, Keemontrae McKnight 1-(minus 4).