CONWAY -- Football players and coaches want to win every game, but they know not all victories are created equal.
The University of Central Arkansas' first opponent this season provided a step up in class and, as a consequence, a game that was a bit more important than a few others on the schedule.
UCA has played in the Football Championship Series since 2006, and before this season the Bears had beaten two Football Bowl Subdivision schools. After rallying from a two-touchdown deficit for a 35-28 victory at Western Kentucky in Bowling Green, Ky., on Thursday, UCA has run that count to three.
"We expect to win," UCA Coach Nathan Brown said. "If you look at us over the last 13 or 14 years as a Division I program, you see that no matter who we're playing, we're going to play tough."
It looked bad early for UCA. The Bears failed to gain a yard on its first drive, then gained 7 on its second drive, which was stopped at the UCA 12. Meanwhile, the Hilltoppers scored two touchdowns to take a 14-0 lead less than nine minutes into the game.
Brown said his job requires that he maintain a projection of poise and confidence. He also said he is subject to human nature.
"Doubt creeps in," Brown said. "Questions come up like, 'Did I not get us prepared enough? Are we limited at positions that I thought we were better at?' There were negative thoughts creeping into my head, but I knew it was going to be a process, that everything wasn't going to go our way right away."
Things started to get better for the Bears, who managed 14 second-quarter points that included a 4-yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Breylin Smith to freshman receiver Tyler Hudson with 26 seconds left in the first half.
"That drive to go in at halftime was huge," Brown said. "We really struggled in the first quarter, obviously, got down two scores, but then we battled our way back. That was the moment we knew we had a shot to win this."
"That was really big," Smith said. "That really changed the dynamics of the game."
WKU increased its lead to 28-14 midway through the fourth quarter, but UCA followed Smith and sophomore receiver Lujuan Winningham to 21 points in the final quarter and its first victory over an FBS school since 2016, when UCA won at Arkansas State University.
Winningham, who caught 12 passes for 158 yards and 1 touchdown last season, caught 8 passes for 222 yards and 3 touchdowns against WKU. Smith completed 20 of 28 passes for 324 yards.
"When it came to crunch time, we didn't make the play," WKU Coach Tyson Helton said moments after the game.
UCA made several, highlighted by senior running back Carlos Blackman's 80-yard option pass to Winningham that tied the score at 28-28 with 9:59 left in the fourth quarter.
"Carlos could not have executed that play more perfectly," Brown said. "It was a great play call and great execution by the whole group on that one."
Two days later, the glow from the comeback against FBS member WKU had not subsided for Smith.
"That was a really big team win," he said. "It was big for us as a team, for the university, and really big for Coach Brown as well, being his first FBS win as a head coach."
Sports on 09/01/2019
Print Headline: Bears bask in third FBS win since '06