Content provided by Steve East, Associate AD/Media Relations for UCA

UCA’s Tyler Hudson scores a touchdown against the Missouri Western Griffons.

The University of Central Arkansas Bears turned a depressing start to their Homecoming game on Saturday into a joyous romp over the Missouri Western Griffons, winning 52-10 at First Security Field at Estes Stadium.

The Bears (4-4) gave up a Griffon’s touchdown on the opening possession of the game — aided by a long opening kickoff return — went three and out on offense and then lost their leading tackler Dre Matthews to a possible season-ending injury on MWSU’s next possession. But the Bears pushed all that aside and reeled off the next 45 points, scoring on six consecutive possessions to finish out the first half, and then adding another to start the second half.

The 52 points by the Bears were their most since a 52-35 victory over Incarnate Word last November. The 539 yards of total offense accumulated was the most this season, as was the 235 rushing yards and the 8.6-yard average per offensive play.

“After an emotional loss last week, you could have gone one of two ways with it,” said UCA head coach Nathan Brown. “We’re playing a (NCAA) Division II opponent and that it is their first game. We could have felt sorry for ourselves all week, but I thought our guys had the best week of preparation we’ve had all year. We took their best punch early. They had a good return and punched the ball in early. But I thought we did a good job of sustaining and not panicking. Just played our game and played our game plan.

“You give up a play like that, then you lose one of your better players, I thought it took us a little bit to get our wind back. It’s deflating. We’re all human. It probably took them a play or two to get their wits about them. But one thing they did, Coach (Chad) Williams got them on the sideline and they made a few adjustments and I thought they played phenomenal the rest of the game.

“And obviously we were able to capitalize in the first half several opportunities. But we took their best shot early, but I thought our guys did a good job of responding.’

The catalyst that got the Bears started was the combination of junior quarterback Breylin Smith and sophomore wide receiver Tyler Hudson, who hooked up twice for back-to-back touchdowns to close out the first quarter. The long scoring drives covered 99 and 93 yards and took a combined 11 plays and just 3:46 on the clock. Hudson took the first pass 71 yards to tie the game at 7-7 with 6:00 left in the period, then went 56 yards with the second one at the 1:36 mark.

Smith, who completed 17 of 23 passes for 283 yards and a career-high five touchdowns, then found junior Lujuan Winningham for a 32-yard touchdown early in the second quarter to push the lead to 21-7. The UCA defense got in on the act just 16 seconds later when freshman safety TaMuarion Wilson forced a fumble and sophomore defensive end Logan Jessup scooped it in stride and 26 yards for his first career touchdown and a 28-7 lead.

“I thought Breylin did a great job of really being efficient and putting the ball where it needed to be,” Brown said. “And those guys made plays. Bottom line is, there were some 50-50 balls that were thrown that those guys made great plays on. Very pleased with Kierre Crossley and Cameron Myers, I thought they ran really well in the first half. And obviously in the second half we saw some of our young guys, Marshun Douglas and Corbin Humphrey get some good runs as well.”

The Bears added a 45-yard field goal from junior Hayden Ray and a 21-yard touchdown pass from Smith to Winningham to make it a 38-7 lead at halftime. UCA played nearly everyone available in the second half and had two more players score their first career touchdowns. Smith tossed a 4-yard touchdown pass to sophomore tight end Austin Eldridge and a redshirt freshman running back broke off a 67-yard run in the fourth quarter to close the scoring.

UCA’s defense held the Griffons (0-1) to 198 yards of total offense, a season low for a UCA opponent. They averaged just 3.4 yards per play and were held to 46 rushing yards on 31 attempts. MWSU also lost its top return specialist Trey Vaval to injury in the first quarter, following a 66-yard return that set up the Griffon’s lone touchdown.

Jessup finished with four tackles, a sack and the 26-yard fumble return for touchdown. Redshirt freshman linebacker Colson Simpson led UCA with 8 total tackles and had a half tackle for loss among UCA’s nine for the game. Junior Christian Cain intercepted a pass and Wilson, Daren Davenport and Donta Jones all forced a fumble.

MWSU was forced to punt nine times and lost a fumble and an interception. UCA lost just one fumble, while Seren Hughes-Ford punted four times for a 40.5-yard average.

Hudson caught four passes for 137 yards and two touchdowns, while Winningham had three for 61 yards and another pair of touchdowns, giving him 11 for the season. tied for third in school history. Douglas, from Memphis, Tennessee, nearly hit the 100-yard mark, rushing for 97 yards on just nine carries (10.8 per carry). Senior Kierre Crossley added seven carried for 69 yards (9.9 per carry).

“We played an efficient football game,” Brown said. “That’s the thing I come out of this game that I’m most pleased about is we played with efficiency, we played clean football for the most part, on both sides of the football. Glad to see our guys come out and play 60 minutes in a game like that.

“And obviously a good response after a week of sitting on a tough loss from last week. It was important to come out and get a good taste in our mouth and I thought our players did that.’

The Bears have an open date next Saturday before the return matchup with Eastern Kentucky on Nov. 14 at Estes Stadium. EKU was the tough loss Brown referred to when the Colonels scored with six seconds left to win 31-28 last Saturday in Richmond, Kentucky.