The University of Central Arkansas and Missouri State met Saturday with a bit of deja vu, as it was the two squads' third close contest in two seasons. However, the drama of the night gave the previous two games a run for their money.
With a combined 40 points in the final quarter and four lead changes in the last four minutes of play, UCA (0-2) played well but couldn't deliver, losing to Missouri State (1-1) 43-34 for the first time in the past three games between the two teams.
"It is what it is," UCA coach Nathan Brown said in a postgame radio interview. "It was a good football game. I wish we could have come out of this with a win, but that's a good football team. Coach [Bobby] Petrino's done a phenomenal job, and I'd have a hard time believing that they don't have a chance to be a playoff team."
In the end, UCA outgained the hosts 453-374, were 4 for 4 on red-zone tries and averaged more yards per play. UCA quarterback Breylin Smith threw for 332 yards, receivers Lujuan Winningham and Tyler Hudson each had more than 100 receiving yards, and two different running backs finally stepped up for the Bears' ground game.
With 2:06 left in the game, UCA kicked off to Missouri State following a 71-yard touchdown catch by Hudson that put his team up 34-30. Missouri State got the ball at its own 31-yard line. Utah State transfer quarterback Jason Shelley led his offense 69 yards on an eight-play drive that lasted 1:37 and was capped with a 26-yard touchdown catch by Xavier Lane for a 37-34 Missouri State lead.
Shelley and Lane were Missouri State's two biggest performers. The quarterback finished the day 18 of 36 with 231 passing yards, 22 yards rushing and 2 total touchdowns. Lane had nine catches for 148 yards and the lone score.
UCA got the ball back with 29 seconds left and 75 yards to drive, but it was no dice. Following an incompletion and a sack and fumble for negative yardage, the Bears called a timeout with 11 seconds left. On what became the final play, Smith was intercepted by defensive back Tylar Wiltz, who returned the pick 45 yards for a walk-off score.
One of the game's biggest differences was in the turnover margin, where UCA was minus-2. The first of those two turnovers came late, as Smith threw his first interception of the night to Joe Lemondre with 5:48 left in the game. While UCA held Missouri State scoreless on the ensuing drive, it ran 1:33 off the clock.
While the game ended in tight fashion, it looked like a game that might get away from UCA at the end of the third quarter when the Bears trailed 23-14, but the momentum shifted at the start of the final quarter. Facing a fourth down to start the last 15 minutes, Brown and the Bears decided to go for it from 9 yards out instead of attempting an easy field goal. They converted and set up the first of their 20 fourth-quarter points, which came on a 3-yard touchdown run by Darius Hale to trim the deficit to 23-21.
The freshman Hale and UCA's ground game were bright spots in the loss as -- following a Week 1 loss in which they only totaled 42 rushing yards -- the Bears amassed 121 yards on 29 carries Saturday. Three of their five touchdowns came on the ground as well. Hale and freshman Trysten Smith shared the load, combining for 139 yards and all three rushing touchdowns.
"They're both good players," Brown said about the duo. "They're young, freshmen. And we didn't even get a chance to get Kylin James in there just because of the flow of the game. He's another freshman. I like 'em."