Press Release from Central Arkansas Athletics
The second half was good to the No. 13 University of Central Arkansas Bears once again Saturday night as they withstood a late two-point conversion attempt by the Northwestern State Demons to hold on for a 31-30 victory at Turpin Stadium.
The Bears (5-2, 3-1) outscored the winless Demons 17-6 in the second half to overcome first-half deficits of 14-0 and 21-7 and win for the sixth consecutive time in the series. But it did not come easy. The Bears took their first lead of the night on a 25-yard touchdown pass from Breylin Smith to Lujuan Winningham with 13:20 left to play.
The Demons (0-7, 0-4) drove for a late touchdown _ aided by a personal foul on the Bears that put the ball at the UCA 9 _ but graduate cornerback Trai Mosley knocked away a pass intended for Levar Gumms on the two-point conversion attempt with 1:30 remaining. UCA then ran out the clock to earn its fifth come-from-behind win of the season.
"Let me tell you, that's a good football team,' said UCA head coach Nathan Brown. "I know they haven't won a game but I've said it all week, they've got guys on scholarship and they came out and had a great game plan and attacked us. We're at the top of the league right now and we're going to get everyone's best shot. And if we're not ready for it, we'll be in trouble.
"But our guys responded. At halftime, we just talked about being in this situation before. I think our guys are poised, they don't panic, they understand the process, they make plays. Our coaches really do a great job making adjustments at halftime. And that's the sign of a great coaching staff. Coach (Chad) Williams and our defensive staff came in there and just did a phenomenal job, holding a team to really six points, and it was all in the last drive. And then stop a two-point conversion to win the game.'
The Bears turned the ball over on their first possession of the game _ and a season-high four times for the game _ for the second week in a row and trailed 14-0 midway through the first quarter. Senior running back Carlos Blackman got the Bears on the board with a 14-yard touchdown run at the 4:59 mark of the first quarter before the Demons stretched the lead to 21-7. Smith connected with tight end Josh Nix for a 2-yard touchdown with 7:32 left in the half but the Demons added a 22-yard field goal to make it 24-14 at the half.
The Demons scored off both of UCA's first-half turnovers. UCA got an interception from redshirt freshman safety Cameron Godfrey in the first half but failed to score following that. The Bears misfired on a 22-yard field goal attempt in the final seconds of the half.
"We had explosive plays all night, we were just a tick off here or there,' said Brown. "We just made enough plays at the end but we probably left 17 to 21 points out there, no doubt about it. But we knew they probably hadn't been in this position much this year and may didn't know how to respond, and we did. And we won the second half 20-6.'
The Bears opened the second half with a 9-play, 60-yard drive that ended with a 28-yard Hayden Ray field goal to get the Bears within 24-17. They followed that with the second-biggest play of the game, a perfectly executed onsides kick from Ray that junior cornerback Robert Rochell recovered for the Bears at the NSU 43. Five plays later UCA tied the game with a 5-yard touchdown pass from Smith to Blackman with less than four minutes gone in the second half.
A team-high and league-leading fourth interception by Rochell ended NSU's next possession and a big fourth-down sack by freshman Darin Davenport ended the next. Rochell then downed a UCA punt at the NSU 2 that affectively swung all the momentum to the Bears. UCA's defense held and gave the ball back to the offense at the NSU 33 after a 26-yard punt return by freshman Tyler Hudson. Smith found Lujuan Winningham with a 25-yard touchdown pass at the 13:20 mark to give the Bears the lead for good at 31-24.
NSU punted on consecutive possessions and then missed a 34-yard field goal attempt. UCA fumbled the ball back to NSU but a sack by junior defensive end J.W. Jones ended that drive for the Demons. UCA punted again with the Demons getting one last shot from their own 30 with 4:39 on the clock. NSU quarterback Shelton Eppler, who was 26 of 49 for 310 yards on the night, tossed his third touchdown pass, this one to Akile Davis, with 1:30 left. But his two-point pass attempt was batted away by Mosley to preserve the win.
It's not always going to be pretty,' said Brown. "And that's the fun part about football. We're finding a way to win on the road. Five of our first seven on the road and we're sitting here at 5-2 and 3-1 in the conference. We've got a lot of work to do, but we're also learning on the fly with a lot of young guys and some older guys stepping up. But we're going to keep getting better and keep coaching our tails off and finding ways to win.'
UCA outgained NSU 212 to 59 yards in the second half. For the game, the Bears finished with 388 yards to the Demons' 406. Winningham caught a career-high nine passes for 168 yards and a touchdown. Smith finished 30 of 43 for 299 yards and three scores. Redshirt freshman Cameron Myers had four kickoff returns for 103 yards. Sophomore linebacker Dre Matthews had a team-high 10 tackles.
The Bears return home for Homecoming on Saturday against the Sam Houston State Bearkats. Kickoff is 6 p.m. at First Security Field at Estes Stadium.