THIBODAUX, La. — A career night from a redshirt freshman receiver and a solid performance by the defense carried the University of Central Arkansas Bears to a 17-10 victory over the Nicholls Colonels in Southland Conference action Saturday at Guidry Stadium.

Desmond Smith of Bentonville had career highs of seven receptions and 140 yards, including a key second-quarter touchdown catch, to lead the UCA offense, which finished with 365 total yards. The Bears, leading 17-3 at halftime, had only 119 yards of offense in the second half but the defense held the Colonels to just one touchdown, that coming with just 46 seconds left to play.

"It was certainly a hard-fought game," said UCA head coach Clint Conque, who improved to 6-2 against his alma mater. "I certainly think we left some points on the field in the first half and then we just didn’t get enough at-bats in the second half. And you have to give Nicholls some credit there, their offense kept moving the chains and kept us on the sideline.

"I thought our kids played hard and they really wanted to win. This is always a very difficult trip for us, and it’s a very difficult place to play. We’re very happy to get out of here with a victory."

The Colonels (4-7, 1-5) took an early lead on their Senior Day with a 40-yard field goal by Andrew Dolan at the 9:39 mark of the first quarter. UCA came back and drove 46 yards in 10 plays, with junior quarterback Ryan Howard hitting junior receiver Clay Murphy with a 7-yard touchdown pass, the first TD reception of his career.

Midway through the second period, junior Eddie Camara capped a 14-play drive by kicking a 28-yard field goal to give UCA a 10-3 lead. In the final two minutes of the half, the Bears then took over and drove 77 yards in seven plays, taking just 1:08.

Howard connected with Smith over the middle for a 48-yard touchdown that gave UCA a 17-3 lead at the break. Smith, reshirt freshman from Bentonville, had five receptions for a career-high 124 yards and a touchdown in the first half. UCA’s quarterback duo of Howard and Taylor Reed were a combined 13 of 20 for 182 yards in the first half.

The second half was all about field position and missed and/or blocked field goals. UCA had a 41-yard field goal attempt blocked and Nicholls later missed a 27-yard attempt. The Colonels drove 89 yards in 14 plays late in the fourth quarter, with backup quarterback Beaux Hebert finding Erik Buchanan with an 11-yard touchdown pass that closed it to 17-10 with 46 left.

The onside kick attempt sailed out of bounds and UCA ran out the clock to improve to 6-5 overall and 3-3 in league play.

Howard finished 17 of 27 for 150 yards and two touchdowns, while Reed was 8 of 11 for 106 yards. Willie Matthews led all rushers with 78 yards on 19 carries. Senior middle linebacker Justin Heard finished with 10 tackles, including two for loss and a sack, while Blake Childress had 9 tackles (2 for loss) and Jonathan Woodard had 7 (2 for loss, 1 sack).

The Bears close out the 2013 season at home on Saturday for Senior Day against Sam Houston State, a 34-21 loser to Southeastern Louisiana on Saturday. Kickoff is 3 p.m. at First Security Field at Estes Stadium.