CONWAY -- The University of Central Arkansas followed its most lopsided loss in three seasons with what Coach Nathan Brown called his team's most complete game of the year in the Bears' 30-7 victory over Stephen F. Austin at Estes Stadium on Saturday night.
"I knew last week wasn't the way we play, who we are," Brown said. "We got up and brushed ourselves off this week, and I think our guys just responded in a positive way."
UCA (8-3, 6-2 Southland) was knocked out of first place by its lonesome in the Southland Conference after a 34-0 home-field loss to Southeastern Louisiana on Nov. 9, a result Lumberjacks Coach Colby Carthel said concerned him.
"I was so mad," Carthel said. "I told Coach Brown and [offensive coordinator Ken] Collums, a good friend of mine, 'I wish you guys would've laid an egg against us and not those guys.' "
UCA kicked off against Stephen F. Austin (2-9, 2-6) in a four-way tie for first place. The victory left the Bears in a three-way tie with Nicholls State and Southeastern Louisiana with one regular-season game left for each team. Nicholls is scheduled to play at Southeastern Louisiana on Thursday. UCA is set for a game at Incarnate Word on Friday.
One victory away from a share of the Southland title, Brown said the balance UCA exhibited against Stephen F. Austin was perfectly timed.
"We have a good group," Brown said. "We have a chance to play for a championship this week, and that's such a testament to our guys and all the time and effort they put in."
UCA rushed for a season-high 263 yards, led by junior Kierre Crossley with 11 carries for 94 yards and senior Carlos Blackman with 16 rushes for 94 yards and 1 touchdown. Sophomore quarterback Breylin Smith passed for 169 yards and 2 touchdowns, and UCA's defense held the Lumberjacks to 73 second-half yards and a total of 232.
"Tonight we just came out and said, 'We're going to run the ball,' '' Blackman said. " 'We're going to run it by any means.' Our O-line got it together, and we started running. We got it going."
Turnovers were a first-half staple as Stephen F. Austin lost three fumbles, and Smith threw two interceptions for UCA. Ten of UCA's 13 first-half points followed turnovers.
UCA completed its first drive with a season-long 45-yard field goal by junior Hayden Ray to take a 3-0 lead with 10:48 left in the first quarter.
UCA junior safety Chris Kershner recovered a fumble by sophomore tight end Carson Spence at the Stephen F. Austin 27 midway through the second quarter. Two plays later, a 15-yard touchdown pass from Smith to junior tight end Sam Camargo gave UCA a 10-0 lead.
A fumble by sophomore receiver QuenTyvian Borders was recovered by UCA junior cornerback Robert Rochell at the Stephen F. Austin 40 with 6:46 left in the second quarter. Ray's 26-yard field goal gave UCA a 13-0 lead.
"It wasn't a perfect game by either team, but they sure made a lot more plays than we did," Carthel said.
On the third play of Stephen F. Austin's subsequent drive, quarterback Can Arnold hit freshman receiver Xavier Gipson in full stride as he ran untouched down the sideline for a 71-yard touchdown that cut UCA's lead to 13-7 with 2:43 left in the first half.
Whereas none of UCA's turnovers led to Stephen F. Austin points, one eliminated a clear scoring opportunity for the Bears.
Early in the second quarter, UCA led 3-0 and faced third and 6 from the Lumberjacks' 25, but Smith's next pass was intercepted by freshman cornerback Myles Brooks.
"When you get in field-goal range, you have to take care of the ball, and I didn't," Smith said. "The next time we got down there, I made sure I did."
UCA scored in the second half on a 35-yard field goal by Ray, Blackman's 4-yard touchdown run, and a fourth-quarter 8-yard pass from Smith to sophomore Tyler Hudson.
"We had to put last week behind us, and we did," Smith said. "This week, we were able to control what we could control."
Sports on 11/17/2019
Print Headline: UCA sees sufficient response