The University of Central Arkansas outscored Incarnate Word 21-7 in the fourth quarter Friday night to clinch a share of the Southland Conference championship with a 52-35 victory at Benson Stadium in San Antonio.
With the victory, the 11th-ranked Bears (9-3, 7-2 Southland) will wait to hear its postseason fate Sunday when ESPNU broadcasts the FCS Playoff Selection Show. UCA, which earned a share of the conference title with Nicholls State, has a good case to earn a top eight national seed, which includes a first-round bye.
Nicholls State, who defeated Southeastern Louisiana 28-27 on Thursday night in Hammond, La., earned the Southland's automatic bid into the playoffs. Nicholls State, which finished the regular season on a four-game winning streak, defeated the Bears 34-14 on Oct. 5 in Thibodaux, La.
The Bears led Incarnate Word (5-7, 4-5) 31-28 heading into the fourth quarter. After UCA scored twice to make it 45-28, the Cardinals -- last year's conference co-champions along with Nicholls State -- got a 4-yard touchdown run from Kevin Brown to trim the deficit to 10 points with 2:25 remaining.
UCA's Carlos Blackman returned the ensuing onside kick 46 yards for a touchdown to set the final margin with 2:18 left.
"You don't see that very often," UCA Coach Nathan Brown said of Blackman's return. "It's an unorthodox play. To get that was a good way to put the icing on the cake."
UCA led 24-7 with 57 seconds left in the second quarter after quarterback Breylin Smith found Tyler Hudson for a 14-yard touchdown pass.
Incarnate Word's Ce'cori Tolds returned the ensuing kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown as the Cardinals trimmed the deficit to 24-14 at halftime.
Smith found Hudson again in the third quarter, this time from 44 yards out as the Bears led 31-14 with 12:21 remaining in the quarter.
Incarnate Word scored twice to make it 31-28 to end the third quarter before the Bears took over in the fourth, thanks to a little push from Brown.
"They understood there were 15 minutes left for a championship," UCA's second-year head coach said. "They knew what was at stake. They played with purpose and intensity to finish the game out."
Blackman's 18-yard touchdown run with 12:21 left in the fourth capped a seven-play, 58-yard drive that gave the Bears a 38-28 advantage.
Hudson, who had 9 receptions for 161 yards, then hauled in a 27-yard touchdown pass from Smith for his third score of the game with 5:30 remaining. That gave the Bears a 45-28 lead before the Cardinals drove 75 yards in 12 plays, which was capped by Brown's touchdown run with 2:25 left.
Smith was 25-of-36 passing for 296 yards and 5 touchdowns, which included the 3 to Hudson and first-half scores to Jarrod Barnes and Joe Hampton.
Blackman led UCA's ground game with 80 yards on 18 attempts. Kierre Crossley added 55 yards on 14 attempts for the Bears.
Brown, a former standout quarterback for the Bears, said the team has done plenty to earn one of the coveted top eight national seeds, especially with road victories over FBS Western Kentucky and FCS 19th-ranked Austin Peay.
"To me, there's no resume better," Brown said. "Nobody's going to have an FBS win like us. To do what we did throughout the year has been spectacular. Seven of our wins were on the road. This team deserves a top-eight seed."
Sports on 11/23/2019
Print Headline: UCA shares crown