JONESBORO -- With 2:45 left in the third quarter Saturday, the University of Central Arkansas offense took the field after back-to-back three-and-outs at Centennial Bank Stadium.
On a night where things didn't click offensively, the Bears seemed to put things together for at least the next six plays.
Quarterback Breylin Smith began the drive by finding Tyler Hudson for a 33-yard reception, a grab Hudson made on the Bears' sideline while tied up with Arkansas State University defensive back Elery Alexander. Freshman running back Darius Hale followed with an 8-yard run up the middle, but Smith was sacked on the next play for an 11-yard loss.
The offense worked out of it, again with a Hudson deep shot that went for 43 yards. With a cut, the UCA receiver evaded defensive back Samy Johnson and got the Bears to the ASU 8. Two plays later, Smith capped the drive with a 7-yard pass to Lujuan Winningham for a touchdown.
It was a bright spot in a 40-21 loss to the Red Wolves.
UCA (0-1) gave up more than 500 yards defensively and had trouble converting offensively, making it to the red zone only twice and converting a single third-down conversion in 12 attempts.
But a trio of receivers in redshirt senior Winningham, and juniors Hudson and Chris Richmond gave the Bears a boost. Combined, the three totaled 381 all-purpose yards and scored all three of the Bears' touchdowns.
"It's awesome when you get those guys," Smith said. "They always give you a chance for a big play, and we missed some opportunities early in the game in just not giving those guys a chance."
Hudson and Winningham came into the 2021 season highly touted, both receiving preseason FCS All-American honors. Prior to arriving in Conway, the duo grew up in the greater Houston area, playing for high schools that were less than an hour apart. In their UCA careers, they've combined for more than 200 receptions and 3,300 yards.
In Saturday's loss, Hudson broke open late, recording six of his team-leading seven catches after halftime. Although he didn't find the end zone, he finished with 118 receiving yards and an average of 16.9 yards per catch.
Winningham, who finished the day with six catches and 84 yards, caught both of the Bears' touchdowns after halftime.
"They're both great 50-50 ball players," UCA Coach Nathan Brown said. "They run good routes, have very strong hands. Really, it's about who's going to get the single coverage. If you're going to roll over the top with one of them, you've got to leave the other one in a one-on-one situation, so it's a blessing."
Richmond finished with five catches for 71 yards and a 66-yard touchdown catch, as well as 100 kick return yards. Statistically, it was the biggest night of his UCA career.
The junior was expected to be a significant pass-catching option in 2020, but two games into the year a leg injury ended his season. After his return from injury, the Bears tried to be cautious with his workload, Smith said, but he noted the receiver came back "even better."
"I joke around with him [that], 'Honestly, with your little RoboCop leg, you're even faster,' " Smith said. "He's an awesome receiver. He's going to help us big time ... and I'm just glad to have him back on the field."
Brown and Smith both said their entire group of receivers -- including Mitch Perkinson, who had three catches for 15 yards Saturday -- is deep.
"This is a special group," Smith said. "Things didn't go our way tonight, but I think there's big things ahead."