Bears lose to Oklahoma; return home to ‘The Stripes’ this Saturday

STILLWATER, Okla. — The University of Central Arkansas Bears are inching closer and closer to a Power 5 victory.

In front of a season-opening crowd of 53,855 at Boone Pickens Stadium last Saturday night, the Bears fell to the Big 12 Oklahoma State Cowboys 27-13 in their yearly FCS vs. FBS matchup, the second closest Power 5 loss in school history.

Kylin James

The Bears, who had a pair of touchdowns called back due to penalty early in the game, closed to within 13-7 with 4:37 left to play in the third quarter before the Cowboys scored twice to push it back to 27-7. UCA got a late touchdown pass to set the final margin at 14 points.

“I’m extremely proud of this team,” said UCA head coach Nathan Brown, who was the Bears’ offensive coordinator when UCA lost 32-8 to OSU back in 2015. “We made it a four-quarter game and we made it tough on them. That was our goal coming into this game. We felt like if we got it to four quarters we’d have a shot.

“And we did. You know, we left some stuff out there and we’re disappointed in that. First-game stuff that we’ll get corrected from Week 1 to Week 2. But I told our team after I’m proud of them. But it doesn’t mean we leave here happy, because we had full intention of coming over here to compete and win the game.”

Compete they did as the Bears played much of the game without two injured offensive linemen (Frazier Rose, Will Diggins), and a good part of the second half without starting safeties TaMuarion Wilson and Cameron Godfrey. 

“I see it in our players’ eyes,” said Brown. “They’re a tough bunch, and we have a ton of talent. And we were underhanded fast. And I think that’s a testament to our depth, it’s a testament to these two guys next to me (QB Will McElvain, DE David Walker), their leadership and just their approach to the game.

“We’ve got a chance to be a special team, I truly believe that. We competed on defense and the defense kept us in the game. And our offense was opportunistic. We obviously left some points out there, we had two scores called back on the first drive, missed a couple of field goals. You can’t do that and beat a Big 12 team.”

UCA’s defense came to play from the opening drive when sophomore linebacker Jake Golday forced OSU starting quarterback Garrett Rangel into a rushed pass on fourth and three that sophomore linebacker Demetrias Charles intercepted at the UCA 31 to end the Cowboys’ first threat. The Bears turned it over to their offense, which looked sharp in driving deep into OSU territory rather easily.

The Bears looked to have taken an early 7-0 lead, twice, on a pair of touchdown passes on the same drive. However, both were called back by penalty. UCA senior quarterback Will McElvain completed a 20-yarder to senior receiver Christian Richmond on a second-and-12. After that was brought back, McElvain connected with junior running back Kylin James for 25 yards but that did not stand either.

UCA was finally forced to go for a 28-yard field goal and OSU’s Korie Black blocked Jake Gaster’s first career attempt, leaving it scoreless with 5:45  left in the first quarter.

“You open the game with a fourth-down stop, which got us the momentum,” said Brown. “We take it right down the field. You never know what happens if we put that ball in the box, and we get at least one of those. It was just unfortunate. That’s deflating, and then you get the field goal blocked. You still have a chance to go up 3-0.

Christian Richmond

“But I thought our guys responded well. The defense rose up and kept us in the game in the first half. And once the offense got its feet under the, I think we had some shots. I think we had close to 400 yards (391), and that’s pretty good against a Big 12 team.” 

After the block, OSU answered by driving 80 yards in 11 plays, capped by an 11-yard touchdown pass from Rangel to Brennan Presley with 2:58 left in the period. UCA’s defense came up big again in the second quarter and held the Cowboys to a pair of field goals, a 36-yarder with 5:34 left in the half and a 45-yarder in the final seconds for a 13-0 halftime lead. OSU would end up using three different quarterbacks in the game.

“I think it was just a testament to how well we were prepared,” said McElvain, “to come into the game and get a stop on the first drive, then go down the field and put a good drive together. We don’t want a moral victory but I think we understand how good of a team we can be. I think we already knew that, but to come in here and put it to the test and kind of confirm it, I think it will be good momentum going into weeks forward.” 

The Bears, held to just 137 yards of offense in the opening half, found their offensive rhythm midway through the third quarter, putting together an impressive 95-yard scoring drive in just eight plays. James did much of the work with a 12-yard rush and three receptions for 42 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown from McElvain, who was 4 of 4 on the drive. Jake Gaster’s PAT made it a 13-7 defiicit with 4:37 left in the third.

The Cowboys, under the direction of their third quarterback of the game, head coach Mike Gundy’s son Gunner, drove 93 yards in nine plays to push their lead back to 20-7 with 10:44 to play. Another six-play, 78-yard drive gave the Cowboys a comfortable 27-7 cushion with 5:54 remaining.

UCA got one score back with a seven-play, 70-yard drive that ended with a 2-yard touchdown pass from McElvain to Richmond that set the final.

McElvain finished 24 of 37 passing for 268 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Richmond caught five passes for 38 yards, while senior Jarrod Barnes had four for 94 yards. Transfer running back ShunDerrick Powell showed why he was one of the top FCS running backs in the country a year ago at North Alabama, running 12 times for 71 yards.

UCA junior punter Chandler Caughron was a weapon all night, punting six times for a 46.2-yard average.

Defensively, Golday had a team-high nine tackles, while All-American defensive end David Walker and transfer cornerback Andrew Hayes had eight apiece, with Walker getting 1.5 tackles for loss, including a half sack. Wilson and Godfrey had five tackles each despite missing much of the second half.

UCA hosts Texas College next Saturday for its home opener at 6 p.m. on “The Stripes” at First Security Field at Estes Stadium.