SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — The University of Central Arkansas Bears did enough on offense in the first half Saturday night, then turned it over to their defense in the final 30 minutes to preserve a hard-fought 17-13 victory over the Missouri State Bears at Plaster Field.
UCA (2-2) led by the final margin at halftime, then forced MSU (0-4) to punt six consecutive times in the second half. A final goal-line stand by the Bears’ defense with 2:42 to play sealed it. UCA defensive end Derek Floyd sacked MSU quarterback Kierra Harris back to the 12 and two incomplete passes, the final one in the end zone, ended the threat.
"This game belongs to our defense, no question about it,’ said UCA head coach Clint Conque, who saw his defense hold MSU to just 70 yards of offense in the second half. "I can’t say enough about how well they played, the whole game, but particularly down the stretch in the second half. They just kept giving our offense the ball around midfield and they just kept making plays.
"I thought they played very courageously, showed a lot of mental toughness and physical toughness out there.’
UCA senior quarterback Wynrick Smothers completed his first 14 passes of the game _ and 21 of 23 before halftime _ as UCA took the 17-14 lead to the locker room. But the Bears, as they had the past two games, fell behind to start the game as MSU drove 66 yards in 10 plays, capped by an 8-yard touchdown pass from Kierra Harris to Dorian Bradford. Austin Wilmer missed the point after with 6:48 left in the first quarter.
Smothers then connected with junior receiver Dezmin Lewis for UCA’s longest play from scrimmage of the season, a 75-yard touchdown pass just 43 seconds later. Jace Denker’s extra point gave UCA a 7-6 lead. Denker connected on a 27-yard field goal at the 12:53 mark of the second period to push UCA’s lead to 10-6.
MSU answered with a 3-yard run by Vernon Scott with 9:18 to play in the first half, giving the home Bears a 13-10 advantage. UCA answered with an 8-play, 48-yard drive, with Smothers throwing down the middle for a leaping Chase Dixon from 8 yards out for the score.
MSU then drove to the UCA 25 but missed a 42-yard field goal as time expired in the half.
Smothers’ 14 consecutive completions tied the school record held by UCA quarterback Coach Nathan Brown (2007) and Brian Stallworth (2001). He finished the game 35 of 46 for 280 yards and the two touchdowns. He had on interception in the second half on a tipped pass that deflected off a UCA receiver.
"We definitely have to get better on offense, but I think we know our identity,’ said Conque. "No. 4 (Wynrick Smothers) is playing phenomenal. No. 5 (Dezmin Lewis) came up big, Courtney Whitehead made a couple of clutch catches for us. Our receivers made some big plays.
And I thought we had some hard-earned running yards. We’re just not consistent enough as an offense right now. But at the end of the day, we got enough done at critical times on offense to get the job done and get a halftime lead, and that turned out the be the final score.’
Lewis, a junior from Mesquite, Texas, caught 8 passes for 128 yards and a touchdown. UCA finished with 338 yards of total offense, averaging 6.1 yards per play. Jonathan Harrison punted seven times for a 42.3-yard average. Floyd had 2.5 tackles for loss and a sack, while Markeith Gaines had two tackles for loss.
The Bears have their only open date of the season next Saturday before opening Southland Conference play at home against McNeese State on Oct. 5.