UCA completes improbable comeback

CONWAY — Facing a 30-6 deficit heading into the fourth quarter, the University of Central Arkansas Bears never blinked, exploding for 32 points in an improbable 38-33 victory over the Southeast Missouri Redhawks at First Security Field at Estes Stadium.

Will McElvain

The Bears led for exactly 19 seconds after scoring the go-ahead touchdown on a Kylin James nine-yard rush, followed by Jake Gaster’s point-after kick. The Bears then intercepted SEMO quarterback Paxton DaLaurent in the end zone as time expired. 

While the offense was rolling in the fourth quarter, UCA’s defense forced two consecutive three-and-out possessions for the Redhawks that ran less than two minutes off the clock, giving the Bears just enough time and just enough possessions to secure the win. UCA scored touchdowns on five consecutive possessions in the fourth quarter, after managing just two field goals in its first seven possessions of the game.

“An emotional win,” said UCA head coach Nathan Brown. “One of the first things I did was just sit back about 15-20 yards and watch our guys celebrate, because that’s what college athletics is about. And here’s the thing, I’ve been on the other side of it, not necessarily in that fashion, but I’ve been on the other side of heartbreak. And that’s a terrible feeling, too.

“But what I’m so proud of is just our guys… there was probably a half a dozen times on the sideline where we could have split, we could have made excuses, we could have quit. And we probably wanted to at times. Even as a coach you want to sometimes. I think I said in the headset probably three or four times, man if we don’t get a stop here, we don’t get a first down here, this could be ugly.

“But playmakers make plays. The defense stood up when they needed to stand up. I told the team after (the game), I don’t have a lot to say because I’m still in kind of, for a lack of a better term, shock. But in a good way. Just so proud of them. This is why you work so hard.”   

Myles Butler

UCA got a career-high 367 passing yards from senior quarterback Will McElvain, for the second straight week. In the fourth quarter alone, he tossed touchdown passes of 10 yards to sophomore Myles Butler (making it 30-12), nine yards to senior Jarrod Barnes (30-18), 73 yards to senior Christian Richmond (33-25) and 45 yards to Butler again (33-31) with 1:34 remaining.

UCA missed on three two-point conversion pass attempts, leaving them down two with 1:34 left. The UCA defense stuffed a third-down play when cornerback Andrew Hayes broke up a pass to force a SEMO punt. The Bears took over on their own 30 with 1:18 on the clock. McElvain completed three of four passes to get the Bears into SEMO territory.

James, a junior from Dumas, Ark., then broke up the middle for 20 yards, down to the SEMO 19. A defensive pass interference call moved the Bears to the 4 but a UCA penalty pushed it back to the 9. On first and goal, James went off the right side for the score to set off a wild celebration on the UCA sideline. UCA’s drive covered 70 yards in six plays, and just 59 seconds.

SEMO took over on its 46 and got one first down before Wilson sealed it when he went up in traffic and grabbed a hail mary pass in the end zone to end it.

“I think we learned a lot about ourselves in the fourth quarter,” said Brown. “And I don’t know if you expect to learn 32-3 stuff, but we learned a lot about ourselves. I’ve been a part of a lot of fourth-quarter comebacks. As a matter of fact, the 2019 team Southland Conference championship team had five fourth-quarter comebacks that year. We ended up being a national seed that year. We just did a lot of things right.

“So I’ve been a part of a lot of fourth-quarter comebacks, but none in that fashion.”

The Bears finished with 497 yards of total offense, with 260 of that coming in the fourth quarter. On the flip side, SEMO’s five fourth quarter drive totaled just 71 yards.

UCA once again overcame double-figure penalties (11 for 121 yards) but had just one turnover. Wilson topped the UCA tackle chart with nine stops, while junior defensive end David Walker had eight tackles, including 1.5 sacks. UCA totaled five tackles for loss and three sacks against DeLaurent, who was 25 of 46 for 262 yards and a pair of touchdowns. All-American Geno Hess had 112 rushing yards for the Redhawks, who finished with 415 yards of total offense.

Christian Richmond

“I think you can ask our defense,” said Brown. “They are such a confidence-driven unit. Walker, Wilson, Jessup, Godfrey, those guys play off confidence. I think they saw the offense have a little success, which I think that helps them, and then they were able to play a little football. They let us play a little football in the fourth quarter, and I think we took advantage of that.”

The Bears continue a three-game homestand on Saturday, hosting old foe Stephen F. Austin at 4 p.m. on “The Stripes.” 

“They (the crowd) were phenomenal,” said Brown. “Obviously we’re not sitting here with 100,000 people in the stands, but I just want to thank the crowd for staying. If I’m in the crowd and we’re down 30-6 going into the fourth quarter, I’m probably going to go check out what’s on the TV at home.

“I appreciate the UCA Bear fans (for) sticking with us. And hopefully our players recognize that and appreciate that. That means the world to us. They were huge. You feed off stuff like that.”