Bears run through Cardinals in 49-38 win

BEAUMONT, Texas — A week after setting a single-game receiving record, the University of Central Arkansas Bears flirted with another record on Saturday night in a 49-38 victory over the Lamar Cardinals at Provost Umphrey Stadium.

The  Bears (3-4, 2-2) turned in a dominating rushing effort, spearheaded by true freshman Darius Hale, who finished with the second-best single-game rushing performance in school history with 253 yards on 22 carries (11.5 average per carry) and scored a career-high four of UCA’s seven touchdowns. Hale entered the game tied for fifth in the nation at the FCS level with nine rushing touchdowns and almost certainly improved his standing with four more.

Trenton Dunn

Ironically, the school record of 292 rushing yards was set on the same field, by Blake Veasley on a whopping 49 carries on Oct. 24, 2015. A week ago, sophomore wide receiver Tyler Hudson set the school’s receiving mark with 251 yards against Eastern Kentucky, breaking a 41-year-old record.

The Bears made it a ground affair on Saturday, rushing for a season-high 350 yards. Fellow freshman Kylin James joined Hale by topping the 100-yard mark, finishing with 11 carries for 112 yards and his first touchdown at UCA. He also tossed his first career pass, a 42-yard touchdown strike to a wide-open Hudson in the first quarter that gave the Bears a 21-7 lead over the Cardinals (2-5, 0-3).

Hale had 151 of his yards and three of his touchdowns in the opening half as the Bears cruised to a 35-7 lead at the Bears. UCA recorded a good chunk of its offensive yardage in the opening 30 minutes _ 355 total yards, 201 on the ground _ and held the Cardinals to just 156. UCA put together a season-high 17-play, 83-yard scoring drive among its five first-half touchdown drives.

“The difference in the game was our run game,’ said UCA head coach Nathan Brown, who was UCA’s offensive coordinator when Veasley set the mark. “Our offensive line stepped up tonight, the tight ends stepped up and then Darius and Kylin James both ran just about as good as you could want running backs to run. They found the hole, they were patient, they didn’t take minus yardage plays, and they were productive.

“Defensively, what they were doing, if you could get past the second level you had a chance for some big plays. And I think both of those guys took advantage of that throughout the night.’ 

Darius Hale

The Cardinals overcame UCA’s 35-point first half by coming out of the locker room and putting up 16 consecutive points with a blocked punt for a safety and back-to-back touchdowns to cut their deficit to just 35-23 midway through the third quarter.  UCA’s James stopped that momentum with a 17-yard scoring run up the middle, set up by his own 42-yard scamper up the middle, his first touchdown as a Bear. That pushed UCA’s lead back to 42-24.

UCA came right back with a two-play, 74-yard drive that saw Hale go 67 yards straight up the middle for his fourth score and a 49-23 UCA lead. But Lamar added two more rushing touchdowns to get within 11 points with 8:50 remaining. After a UCA punt, the Cardinals drove to midfield but sophomore defensive end Logan Jessup sacked Lamar quarterback Jalen Dummett and Marquez Casey recovered to allow the Bears to run out the clock.

Jessup led the Bears with 11 tackles, including 1.5 sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss, along with the forced fumble. Caden Brown added eight tackles, including a 13-yard sack. Junior quarterback Breylin Smith was not called on to do much but still completed 17 of 30 passes for 149 yards, with Hudson catching six for 98 yards and Lujuan Winningham five for 44 yards. 

Drummett, a junior quarterback, topped Lamar with 125 yards rushing and fellow Mike Chandler threw for 154 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

“We put our defense in a terrible position and they were treading water there for most of the third quarter,’ said Brown. “But they found a way, and at the end of the day, we found enough plays. It was good to see us sustain some drives there late in the game to really pull away at the end.

“And I thought our defensive line as a whole played great tonight. The scoreboard is not really indicative of that but we gave them a short field a couple of times and put our defense in a tough spot. But all those guys up front played great. And I thought Nathan Grant and Logan Jessup made some huge plays late on the edge to really seal the game.’

The Bears return to the road again next weekend against Top 25 Jacksonville State, which lost 42-7 to No. 1 Sam Houston State on Saturday. It will be the first meeting between the new ASUN programs.