CONWAY -- The opening moments of Saturday's game at Estes Stadium had an ominous feel to it for the University of Central Arkansas.
It turned out to be a short-lived scare for the Bears.
UCA (4-4) defeated NCAA Division II opponent Missouri Western 52-10, scoring 45 consecutive points after a brutal start.
"I thought our guys, it took them a second to catch their wind," UCA Coach Nathan Brown said.
How's this for a shaky start against a team playing its first game of the season:
Missouri's Western sophomore Trey Vaval, who led Division II in combined return yardage last season, took Seren Hughes-Ford's opening kickoff 66 yards to the UCA 32.
The Griffons picked up 15 yards on a first-down run by Jared Scott, and suddenly all the players on the field were taking a knee when Dre Matthews, a junior linebacker from DeFuniak Springs, Fla., didn't get up after the play.
Matthews, UCA's leading tackler, was taken off the field on a stretcher after dislocating a knee.
The Griffons needed five more plays to score, a 1-yard run by Scott, and it was 7-0 Missouri Western with 11:39 to play in the first quarter.
"When you give up a play like that and lose one of your better players, on the first play, we're all human," Brown said. "You definitely want to go up and down and pat guys on the back, 'Hey, it's going to be all right.' "
Moments later, after an exchange of punts, UCA found itself pinned at its 1.
"We went three-and-out the first series," UCA quarterback Breylin Smith said. "We needed to get something going."
The Bears awoke with a 28-yard run by Kierre Crossley (7-69) to move the ball to the 29, and Smith found Tyler Hudson in man-to-man coverage along the Missouri Western sideline.
Hudson outleaped DJ Stirgus for the ball at the Missouri Western 30 and glided into the end zone to complete a 5-play, 99-yard drive with 6:00 to play in the first quarter.
The Bears' domination commenced, led by Smith's first-half touchdown passes of 71, 56, 32 and 21 yards, and a 26-yard scoop-and-score by sophomore defensive end Logan Jessup of Wynne.
UCA outgained Missouri Western 332-57 and outscored the Griffons 38-0 in the final 21 minutes of the first half to lead 38-7 at halftime.
The opening sequence -- particularly the kickoff return and the season-ending injury to Matthews -- left a homecoming crowd of 2,454 stunned and silent.
"We took their best shot early," Brown said. "I thought our guys did a good job of responding to the situation."
Missouri Western Coach Matt Williamson said he was pleased with the way the game started but not surprised by the end result.
"We had a lot of energy and played really well, did some real good things, but No. 5 [Smith] is a really good football player, and he got after us a little bit," said Williamson, who served as an assistant at UCA from 2007-13. "We were going to challenge them on the edge. We were in good positions on a lot of them. They just got up there and took the ball away."
Smith (17-23 passing, 283 yards, 5 TDs) took advantage of a Griffons' secondary that was playing man-to-man coverage on Lujuan Winningham (3-61-2) and Hudson (4-137-2).
"My confidence in those guys is really high," Smith said.
Reserve tight end Austin Eldridge, a sophomore from Plant City, Fla., caught Smith's fifth touchdown pass, from 4 yards with 11:36 to play in the third quarter to make it 45-7.
It was Smith's final pass attempt before being replaced by junior Luke Hales midway through the third quarter.
Missouri Western ended UCA's run of 45 consecutive points on Roland Tyson's 33-yard field goal with 3:53 to play in the third quarter.
UCA completed the scoring with 10:01 to play in the fourth quarter on a 67-yard run by redshirt freshman Marshun Douglas.
"The big plays killed us," Williamson said. "It kind of deflated us a little bit."
That Missouri Western (0-1) got off to a fast start was not all together surprising, after practicing all fall in preparation of possibly playing a few games -- they are scheduled to play three more -- but the Griffons did not arrive in Conway at full strength.
Missouri Western left its defensive coaching staff in St. Joseph after they tested positive for covid-19 earlier in the week, along with starting running back Shamar Griffith and several offensive linemen.
"It was challenging," Williamson said. "It was very, very challenging."
Williamson reached out to two men he worked with at UCA -- Dan Augustine and Hud Jackson -- to help coach the Griffons.
Augustine -- a former Bears defensive line coach who works for Cintas, which provides specialized services to businesses -- and Jackson -- a former UCA associate head coach and currently the head coach at the University of Arkansas-Monticello -- were cleared by the NCAA to serve as volunteer assistants.
Brown said he had no idea that Augustine and Jackson would be coaching against the Bears.
"It was somewhat of a coaching reunion here at UCA," Brown said. "It was good to see those guys. Talking about old times before the game started. I was very surprised."