FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Bret Bielema looked down at the sideline and hid his face momentarily behind the papers in his hands, clearly exasperated as Arkansas fell behind by two scores in the fourth quarter to lowly Coastal Carolina.
Even then, the Razorbacks coach said he wasn’t thinking whether his five-year coaching tenure in the Southeastern Conference was nearing an end.
“Hell, no,” Bielema said.
For a second straight week, Arkansas (4-5) quelled any questions about Bielema’s immediate job security on Saturday — rallying behind late touchdowns from T.J. Hammonds and Cole Kelley for a 39-38 win over the first-year FBS Chanticleers.
Kelley capped the comeback with a 1-yard touchdown run with 1:55 remaining, and the much-maligned Razorbacks defense held on Coastal Carolina’s (1-8) final possession for the dramatic win. It was the first time this season Arkansas has won two straight games, and it’s the second time in two weeks the Razorbacks have recovered for a seemingly improbable victory — coming on the heels of last week’s 38-37 win at Mississippi .
“Our guys are resilient, they never stopped believing,” Bielema said. “Down by two scores from the outside world, there are probably a lot of people that thought bad thoughts. Our guys thought good thoughts, and that’s why we think at it that way.”
Bielema improved to 29-31 in his fifth year at the school with the win, though his future with the Razorbacks appeared in serious question as the Razorbacks fell behind 38-25 early in the fourth quarter on Kilton Anderson’s 10-yard touchdown pass to Chris Jones for Coastal Carolina.
That’s when Hammonds answered moments later with an 88-yard touchdown run to pull Arkansas back in the game. Hammonds finished by accounting for 179 yards on only eight touches, rushing for 119 yards and also scoring on a 60-yard catch in the first half.
None of his touches, however, were more important than the long touchdown run.
“Coach always tells me, get what I can get,” Hammonds said. “I saw a big hole so I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, man, this is open.’ So I just kept running.”
Coastal Carolina entered the game with an interim coach in Jamey Chadwell, a seven-game losing streak and then lost starting quarterback Tyler Keane in the first half with an injury.
Kilton Anderson entered the game for Keane in the first half for the Chanticleers, and he accounted for 152 total yards in the loss — throwing for 115 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Chadwell elected to go for the point-after and not a 2-point conversion to possibly go up 14 points after Jones’ touchdown catch early in the fourth quarter, and the Razorbacks closed with Hammond’s long touchdown run and Kelley’s final score.
“I thought it was the best decision at that time,” Chadwell said. “You make decisions, you move on, and you make it and you roll with it, and obviously you lose by one point, but we had plenty of chances after that — with the ball, up 13 — and had plenty of chances to go up more than another score and we just didn’t do it.”
Arkansas starting quarterback Austin Allen missed a fourth straight game with a shoulder injury on Saturday. The senior went through pregame warm-ups and Bielema expected him to play at some point, but he decided to keep Allen on the bench in favor of Kelley in the second half — wanting to ease Allen back into action when the Razorbacks weren’t trailing like they were. Bielema said he expects Allen to be ready to play next week at No. 19 LSU.
Coastal Carolina: The Chanticleers weren’t competitive in their previous two meetings with SEC teams, losing 59-0 to Georgia in 2011 and 70-10 to South Carolina in 2013. They most certainly were against a struggling Razorbacks team on Saturday while winning the time of possession battle 31:02-28:58.
Arkansas: Arkansas appeared on the way to losing for a sixth time in seven games a week ago when it trailed Mississippi 31-7 in the first half. However, the Razorbacks rallied for a 38-37 win over the Rebels — quieting the calls for Bielema’s firing for the time being. Those calls reached a fever point early in the fourth quarter on Saturday, and Arkansas still must likely win two of its final three regular season games to earn a bowl berth. They face LSU next week before finishing the season at home against No. 21 Mississippi State and Missouri.
Coastal Carolina returns to Sun Belt action when it hosts Troy next week.
The Razorbacks begin a stretch of three straight SEC games to close out the regular season at LSU next week.
Follow Kurt Voigt on Twitter at @Kurt_Voigt_AP