Bears move to 2-0 in UAC after win over Thunderbirds

CEDAR CITY, Utah — The University of Central Arkansas Bears overcame 14 penalties, a nearly one-hour lightning delay and a late two-point conversion attempt to down the Southern Utah Thunderbirds 29-27 in UAC action on Saturday night at Eccles Coliseum. 

UCA (3-2, 2-0) got three touchdown passes from senior quarterback Will McElvain, two to junior running back Kylin James, along with three field goals from junior Jake Gaster to improve to 3-2 overall and win its second consecutive UAC game.

The Thunderbirds (1-4, 0-1) took advantage of a late UCA interception to pull within 29-27 with 2;27 to play. On SUU’s two-point attempt, UCA cornerback James Jordan broke up the pass at the goal line, preserving the two-point lead. The Thunderbirds got one more shot, but UCA linebacker Demetrias Charles broke up a pass on fourth down to seal it.

The Bears overcame nine first-half penalties, totaling 97 yards, to grab a 20-7 lead at the break. The Bears got a pair of 34-yard field goals from junior Jake Gaster and touchdown passes from Will McElvain to Kylin James and Jordan Owens.

The Bears scored first on Gaster’s first field goal at the 11:31 mark of the first half, then pushed the lead to 10-0 with McElvain’s 18-yarder to Kylin James with 1:13 left in the quarter.

Jordan Owens

The Thunderbird, who managed only 72 yards of total offense in the first half, got an 8-yard touchdown pass from Justin Miller to Tim Patrick to close the gap to 10-7 early in the second period. But UCA struck again when McElvain led a seven-play, 65-yard drive, capped by a 4-yard touchdown pass to Owens, a sophomore tight end from McGehee, Ark.

McElvain completed 19 of 28 passes for 230 yards in the opening half. Graduate Jarrod Barnes and James had five receptions each. Junior ShunDerrick Powell ran 11 times for 71 yards.

The Thunderbirds opened the second half by taking advantage of a costly UCA turnover. The Bears went for it on fourth down in their own territory and the ball was snapped early and SUU recovered on the 15 and scored three plays later to cut the margin to 20-13. The Bears responded with an eight-play, 75-yard scoring drive, ending in a 17-yard touchdown pass from McElvain to James. The PAT was no good, leaving the Bears with a 26-14 lead with 4:45 left in the quarter.

After a nearly one-hour lightning delay, the Bears got an interception from junior safety TaMuarion Wilson at the 50. UCA drove for Jake Gaster’s third field goal of the night, a 26-yarder that put the Bears up 29-14 with 10:28 to play. The Thunderbirds scored the final two touchdowns of the game, with some help from the Bears.

The first came after a short UCA punt, followed by another penalty set the Thunderbirds up at the UCA 25. The second, which made it a two-point lead, was the result of a UCA interception, the Bears’ second turnover of the night.

Jarrod Barnes

McElvain completed 29 of 48 passes, both career highs, for 349 yards, which tied his career high. James caught a career-high nine passes for 97 yards, while Barnes had six for 83 yards. ShunDerrick Powell, a junior running back from Hoxie, Ark., had another 100-yard rushing game, finishing with 115 yards on 18 carries. Junior Darius Hale added 50 yards on 11 carries. 

UCA’ defense held a second consecutive opponent to just 232 yards of total offense on 67 total plays (3.5 yards per play). Linebacker Jake Golday led the Bears with 7 tackles, while Wilson added six, along with a tackle for loss and interception. UCA finished with nine tackles for loss and a pair of sacks (Javeon Jones, David Walker).

The Thunderbirds entered the game ranked No. 5 in the nation in rushing defense, allowing just 66.8 yards per game on the ground. UCA finished with 122 yards on the ground to go with 349 through the air.

The Bears now return home for three consecutive games, beginning next Saturday against Southeast Missouri for a non-conference matchup. Kickoff is 4 p.m. at FIrst Security Field at Estes Stadium.