Abilene Christian was driving early in the fourth quarter and trailing 35-21. It looked like the Wildcats had a real chance to take their game with the University of Central Arkansas down to the wire.
UCA defensive back Nick Nakwaasah had other ideas, intercepting Stone Earle in the corner of the end zone on third down at the Bears' 16 to help lead his team to a 42-21 victory Saturday night in Abilene, Texas.
It was the Bears' third forced turnover in four Abilene Christian drives, becoming a crucial theme in the matter of a half. UCA scored 14 points off those turnovers en route to the victory as the Bears went on a 35-0 run to secure the victory.
"I was pleased with our guys making adjustments and pushing forward," UCA Coach Nathan Brown said in a postgame radio interview. "It's just a great testament to our coaching staff with how the first half went, and then all of a sudden, you come out and win the second half 28-0."
UCA (2-3) began the game looking a lot like it did the week before against FCS No. 1 Sam Houston, as Abilene Christian (3-2) went up 14-0 in the first quarter. The Bears were able to score two touchdowns in the first half, cutting it to it 21-14 at halftime, but the visitors looked a lot different -- largely more efficient -- after the half.
The Bears finished the night 10 of 15 on third downs and while holding the Wildcats to 6 of 13 on third downs. In the second half, the Bears were 6 of 7 on third downs and the Wildcats just 2 of 7. UCA also limited penalties after halftime, tallying just two of their six flags.
The importance of third downs is something Brown's echoed much of the season, as well as heading into this week.
"I feel like we put ourselves in good position a lot of times on first and second down, especially on defense, and we're just unable to come up with either a sack or tipped ball or pass deflection when it matters most," Brown said earlier this week.
That wasn't the case Saturday, as all three of the Bears' turnovers came on third downs. UCA's first two forced turnovers came in similar third-and-short situations for the Wildcats, with quarterback runs from Earle, who fumbled the ball both times to the Bears.
Offensively, several Bears had big nights. Quarterback Breylin Smith finished the night 28-of-38 passing for 358 yards and 5 touchdowns. It was the first game this season that he hasn't thrown an interception.
Smith once again spread the ball around, finding 11 different receivers for completions. Lujuan Winningham had 8 receptions for 211 yards and a touchdown, and Christian Richmond finished with 5 catches for 34 yards, but he totaled 3 touchdowns, including the Bears' go-ahead score in the third quarter.
"That's what it's about," Brown said in reference to Richmond. "It's about who steps up. Who expects Christian Richmond to have three touchdowns? You expect No. 1 [Tyler Hudson] or No. 5 [Winningham] to have those."
Richmond played after missing the entire second half of last week's game against Sam Houston with an injury, but he more than doubled his touchdown total this season with his performance in Abilene, going from 2 to 5 total scores this year.
UCA also had its best rushing game of the season, tallying 185 total yards. Trysten Smith and Darius Hale both set new career highs in rush yards as well, with 87 and 86 yards, respectively.