Bears roll past Wildcats with 35 straight points

ABILENE, Texas – You can get away with spotting an opponent a 21-7 lead when you come back and score 35 unanswered points.

That is exactly what the University of Central Arkansas Bears did on Saturday night in Abilene, Texas, overcoming a 21-7 deficit midway through the second quarter and coasting to a 42-21 victory over the Wildcats at Anthony Field at Wildcat Stadium.

Breylin Smith

The Bears (2-3) scored on four of their five second-half possessions and shut out the Wildcats (3-2) from the 9:22 mark of the second quarter. ACU had 295 yards of total offense at halftime but managed just 96 yards the rest of the way. ACU’s six possessions in the second half ended in two punts, two fumbles, an interception and the end of the game.

“Bottom line is, our coaches made adjustments,” said UCA head coach Nathan Brown. “I think both Coach (Ken) Collums and Coach (Matt) Kitchens did a great job with adjustments within the game. And our players adjusted, too. If you don’t have players that can adapt throughout the game, you’re going to struggle. So I was real pleased with the way our guys handled themselves.

“From the middle of the second quarter on, out defense shut them out,” Brown said. “They really rose up. We know what we are on defense, and how good we can be. Those guys were pretty good tonight. And that’s a pretty good offense, that’s a team that’s going to go win some games this year. Obviously, they were sitting at 3-1 going into this game. But if you shut a team out in a half, that’s a pretty good day of work.”

The Wildcats, coming off a 56-0 shutout of the Lamar Cardinals a week ago, kept that offensive momentum in the opening quarter, scoring on three consecutive possessions. UCA sandwiched a 57-yard catch-and-run touchdown from junior quarterback Breylin Smith to junior receiver Lujuan Winningham to keep the Bears within 21-7. 

Smith then connected with sophomore wide receiver Christian Richmond for three straight touchdown passes, covering 3, 11 and 12 yards. The final one, with just six seconds left in the third quarter. gave the Bears their first lead of the night at 28-21. Smith then set a career high with his fifth touchdown pass of the game, a 10-yarder to sophomore tight end Austin Eldridge early in the fourth period to make it a two-score lead.

UCA’s Tamuarion Wilson and Davon Wright recovered fumbles and Nick Nakwaasah intercepted a Stone Earle pass deep in UCA territory during the comeback. After Nakwaasah’s pick with 9:03 on the clock, the Bears used almost all of the remaining time with a 15-play, 97-yard drive that freshman tailback ended with a 24-yard run up the middle for the game’s final score and a 42-21 final.

“Honestly, if he would have gotten tackled right there, we would just take a knee,” said Brown. “But he did a great job cutting and just playing the play and happened to score a touchdown. You can’t script something better than that to end the game.”

Smith completed 28 of 38 passes for 358 yards and five touchdown, with no turnovers. Winningham, a junior from Humble, Texas, hauled in eight passes for 211 yards, while Richmond finished with five catches for 34 yards and a career-high three touchdowns. Freshmen running backs Hale and Trysten Smith finished with 86 and 87 rushing yards, respectively, as UCA totaled a season-high 185 yards on the ground.

“I was pleased with the way we ran the ball, and the way we stopped the run in the second half,” Brown said. “We owned the line of scrimmage as the game went on. We set a season high in rushing, and that’s on top of Breylin throwing five touchdowns. Just a really efficient night on offense, if you take away the first quarter. And we kind of killed ourselves in that quarter. We just weren’t able to come up with some plays that we needed.”

Sophomore receiver Tyler Hudson, a two-time ASUN Offensive Player of the Week who had 181 receiving yards last week vs. No. 1 Sam Houston, had a quiet four catches for 57 yards. He was one of 11 different players to catch a pass for the Bears.

“That’s what’s tough about us, you have to figure out who to defend,” said Brown. “Lujuan had eight catches for 211 yards, and then Christian Richmond scores three touchdowns. They were doing some stuff over the top on Tyler early on that opened up some underneath stuff for us. But I thought we threw and caught the ball pretty well. I thought Breylin threw to the open guy all night.”