The University of Central Arkansas defense saved the day in its first victory over Missouri State three weeks ago.
The Bears can thank that side of the ball for leading the way again in the rematch.
UCA scored 24 points off six turnovers as the Bears battled back from a second-half deficit to beat Missouri State 33-24 on Saturday night in front of a crowd of 5,489 at Plaster Stadium in Springfield, Mo.
Quarterback Breylin Smith threw a pair of touchdown passes, and kicker Hayden Ray connected on four field goals for UCA (3-3), which put an end to a two-game losing streak.
Free safety Cameron Godfrey had two interceptions for the Bears, who trailed 14-3 in the second quarter and 24-17 in the third quarter. UCA also recorded seven sacks, three of which came from defensive end Logan Jessup.
Running back Jeremiah Wilson carried 13 times for 100 yards for Missouri State (0-3), which had just 34 yards of offense after halftime and will have to wait until the spring season to hand Bobby Petrino his first victory as coach.
"I thought in the second half, it was a great performance on both sides of the ball," UCA Coach Nathan Brown said. "We kicked too many field goals [Saturday] on offense, obviously our red-zone offense could've been better. But defense really in the second half made some adjustments on their outside run stuff and made big plays.
"Neither one of their quarterbacks could get comfortable, and that was the difference in the ballgame."
Smith finished 18-of-36 passing for 175 yards for the Bears, who suffered a major loss late in the first quarter when wide receiver Lajuan Winningham was ejected for unsportsmanlike conduct. Mitchell Perkinson and Tobias Enlow combined to catch 10 passes for 94 yards to help ease the loss.
UCA got to a quick start when Godfrey intercepted a pass from Missouri State quarterback Jaden Johnson at midfield on the third play of the game. UCA settled for a 47-yard field goal from Ray to take a 3-0 lead.
Missouri State scored a pair of touchdowns in less than two minutes in the second quarter to open an 11-point cushion. Running back Keshun Parker scored on a 1-yard run with 14:46 left to give his team a 7-3 lead. Then after a quick three and out by UCA, tailback Kevon Latulas stiff-armed a would-be tackler and sprinted 63 yards for a touchdown before UCA stormed back by getting takeaways on consecutive offensive snaps.
Defensive back Deandre Lamont picked off Johnson on Missouri State's next series and returned it 35 yards for a touchdown with 11:24 to go in the period to get UCA within 14-10. Johnson fumbled later, and UCA defensive back Davis Harrison recovered at Missouri State's 26. Five plays later, Smith fired a 10-yard touchdown pass to Perkinson to give UCA a 17-14 lead.
Johnson, who committed three turnovers in the teams' game on Sept. 26, was benched in favor of freshman Jake Van Dyne, who hit 3 of 5 passes for 47 yards during an 11-play, 83-yard march after Perkinson's score. Wilson eventually put Missouri State back on top with a 9-yard touchdown run with 4:13 remaining in the quarter to cap the drive. Van Dyne later led an 8-play, 39-yard drive just before halftime that ended with a 30-yard field goal from Jose Pizano.
"We were too chippy in the first half, and we let [Missouri State] get under our skin," Brown said. "That's not UCA Bear football, and I addressed that at halftime very abruptly. That's just not the way we play. That's not smart football.
"We hurt ourselves with 35-plus yards in penalties in the first half, which didn't help our cause. But we played clean football in the second half. You can tell the difference."
Ray nailed field goals on the Bears' first three possessions of the second half, with his 23-yarder giving UCA a 26-24 lead with 4:13 remaining in the period. The Bears then got a big play from their offense on their fourth drive of the quarter to take control.
Smith delivered a 42-yard pass to wide receiver Tyler Hudson in stride for a touchdown with 59 ticks left in the period to extend UCA's advantage.
Missouri State got no further than the Bears' 31 over its final five possessions.
"I just told our players that I'm so proud of them because it's not easy to play a team twice," Brown said. "Much less play a team twice that's been preparing for you ever since the last game you played them.
"But again, you didn't know which number was going to step up. So many made big plays, just a testament to our group of guys."