FCS Recap: UCA earns comeback win; SFA and HBU fall to FBS foes

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QUICK STRIKES CARRY BEARS TO 27-20 VICTORY

Story courtesy: Central Arkansas Athletics

The University of Central Arkansas Bears find the unlikeliest of ways to win football games.

The No. 11 Bears beat Missouri State 27-20 on Saturday night, despite getting just 177 yards of total offense and zero receptions from its top receiver. And won after trailing 20-7 midway through the third quarter. And won with just 11 total yards of offense in the fourth quarter, one in which they still managed to get 14 points from its defense and special teams.

The Bears scored three touchdowns in a span of 2:13 late in the third quarter and early fourth period to record their eighth comeback victory over the past 16 games. Sophomore wide receiver Tyler Hudson had two of the scores, with a 7-yard touchdown reception from junior quarterback Breylin Smith at the 1:24 mark of the third quarter. He added the final score with a 57-yard punt return with 14:11 to play.

In between, junior linebacker Dre Matthews turned in the play of the game, with a 30-yard scoop-and-score fumble return that tied the game at 20-20 with 14:48 remaining. UCA’s defense, stellar all night, forced three consecutive incomplete passes by MSU and Hudson then took the punt to the house, UCA’s first punt return for a touchdown since Tremon Smith returned one 47 yards for a score against Arkansas State in 2016.

“We have to wipe the slate clean,’ said UCA head coach Nathan Brown. “We did not play a good three quarters. In fact, that was probably one of our poorer performances for three quarters that I’ve been a part of. But again, it just shows the resiliency of our football team, different guys stepping up, different guys making plays when it mattered. And just believing. At the end of the day, it’s about belief. 

“Football never goes to script, it never goes to plan. We talk about that every day. That’s why we do different stuff in practice, to practice for games like this. But our guys believed and they found a way to win the game. I can’t tell you how exciting it is to see the belief these guys have in our team. We look bad at times. We were down 20-7, on offense we didn’t play our best game. Special teams had blunders, but the defense kept us in the game throughout. We know any win is a good win, especially at this point in a season like this, so we’re excited about it.’

The Bears struggled for three quarters on offense, accumulating just 166 yards of offense and nine first downs on 47 plays. They only added 11 more yards and another first down in the fourth quarter but were bailed out by opportunistic defense and special teams units. Hudson had four returns for 83 yards and caught four passes for 62 more yards. UCA’s No. 1 receiver Lujuan Winningham was shut out as the Bears completed just nine passes for 79 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. The Bears also had a punt blocked that MSU returned for a touchdown to give it an early 10-0 lead.

But UCA’s defense took command and controlled the visiting Bears for most of the  night. MSU finished with 291 yards of total offense, while quarterback Jaden Johnson, a transfer from Southern Miss, completed 25 of 44 passes for 249 yards but no touchdowns. UCA’s defensive unit recorded 16 tackles for loss and nine sacks, forcing four fumbles (Nick Nakwaasah, Logan Jessup, JW Jones, Jalen Bedell) and intercepting a pass (DeAndre Lamont).

“The defense, oh my gosh, what a great game plan,’ said Brown. “I thought we had their quarterback off balance all night. They gave him a tough time in the pocket all night. They just did a great job. Coach (Chad) Williams dialed up the right blitzes at the right time and guys made big tackles, big stops when it mattered. And offensively, we made enough plays when we needed to.’

The visiting Bears (0-2), who lost to Top 5 Oklahoma two weeks ago, opened the scoring with a 47-yard field goal by Jose Pizano with 12:04 left in the first quarter. Meanwhile, UCA’s first six possessions of the game ended in an interception, a missed 22-yard field goal and four consecutive punts. Senior tailback Kierre Crossley finally broke the ice for the home Bears after a fumble recovery by linebacker Malik Wilson, running in a 4-yard touchdown with 7:38 left in the first half that drew the Bears within 10-7. But MSU tacked on another score, a 3-yard run by Keshun Parker with 4:02 left to make it 17-7 at the break.

UCA ran 28 plays to MSU’S 41 and had just 108 total yards at halftime. 

“They did a great job mirroring Lujuan all night, they took him away,’ said Brown. “They did a good job of that. But that’s why you have a Tyler Hudson on the other side. Breylin showed some poise, I thought Kierre had some big runs, Cameron Myers had some big runs. And we did enough to win the game.’ 

The UCA defense rose up again to end the game after sophomore tailback Cameron Myers fumbled it away at the UCA 26 with 6:21 to play. The Bears held on a fourth-and-4 at the UCA 7, and then again on a fourth-and-2 down at the UCA 28 with 1:28 remaining. UCA took over and ran the clock out for the unlikely victory.

“The scoop and score was the biggest play of the game,’ said Brown. “Dre did a great job. We coach that on defense, we coach to strip the ball, try to produce turnovers. But also, I don’t want the offense back on the field. People don’t realize how fast Dre is. And he did a great job, being athletic and getting his weight down and scooping the ball as opposed to falling on it. And then getting in the end zone. That’s huge. 

“You get a momentum-shifting play like that… I think we had a three-minute stretch right there where Tyler had the punt return for touchdown, Dre had the scoop and score and it just turned the game. That’s how fast football can change. That’s what you preach to your team. If you have a possession or two with time on the clock, anything can happen. And our team definitely believes that.’

Sophomore linebacker Darin Davenport led the Bears with 9 tackles, including a pair of tackles for loss. Matthews, a junior from DeFuniak Springs, Fla., had 7 tackles, inclouding two for loss. Jessup, Jones and Bedell all had 1.5 tackles for loss, with Jones’ accounting for minus 20 yards. Johnson finished the night with a net of negative 39 rushing yards on 21 carries.

UCA faces another Missouri Valley Football Conference (MVFC) team next Saturday in three-time defending FCS champion North Dakota State at the Fargodome in Fargo, N.D. Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m. 


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Lumberjacks Can’t Saddle Mustangs in Dallas on Saturday

Story courtesy: Stephen F. Austin Athletics

The SFA football team fell by a 50-7 score to Southern Methodist University inside Gerald J. Ford Stadium on Saturday night. The host Mustangs (3-0) got going early with a 22-point first quarter and held off the Lumberjacks (0-3) the rest of the way. 

After winning the toss and electing to defer to the second half kickoff, the Lumberjacks kicked the ball off to the Mustangs, who went 30 yards in six plays before scoring on a 33-yard touchdown scamper. Larron Cox would block the extra point attempt, keeping the margin to six points. SFA would punt on the ensuing possession, and SMU marched down the field again to score on an 11-yard touchdown reception. 

The hosts would score twice more in the quarter, first on a blocked punt leading to a safety, and then once more with a touchdown before the quarter ended. SFA would hold the Mustangs to one score in the second quarter and trailed 29-0 at the halftime intermission.

Trae Self would lead the embattled ‘Jacks down the field on a 14-play, 75-yard drive and topped it off with an aerobatic leap into the end zone after scrambling towards the pylon to put the ‘Jacks on the board with 1:22 left in the third quarter. It was the first rushing touchdown of the season for Self and his third in a Lumberjack uniform. 

Self completed 14-23 passes for 133 yards and the rushing touchdown. Receivers Jeremiah Miller and Xavier Gipson led the Lumberjacks with four receptions apiece, as Miller turned in 41 yards on those receptions and Gibson, 28. Tkai Lloyd led the ‘Jacks with 12 total tackles (nine solo), while JaTerious Evans and DaRyan Williams each tallied six stops. BJ Thompson and Larron Cox each recorded a quarterback sack.

The Lumberjacks will return to action on October 3 inside Homer Bryce Stadium, as they face the West Texas A&M Buffaloes. Kick off for that game is set for 4:00 p.m.


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Bulldogs Outduel Huskies, 66-38

Story courtesy: HBU Athletics

HBU senior quarterback Bailey Zappe completed 37-of-58 passes for 406 yards and five touchdowns, three to junior Jerreth Sterns and two to senior Ben Ratzlaff, but Louisiana Tech pulled away for a 66-38 victory in non-conference football Saturday night at Joe Aillet Stadium.

Zappe threw for the fifth-most yards and recorded the second five-touchdown performance of his career for HBU (0-3). Jerreth Sterns made 14 catches, the second-most of his career and program history, for 138 yards, the fourth-most in school history and the sixth 100-yard effort of his career. Ratzlaff had 10 receptions for 137 yards, his eighth 100-yard performance. Freshman Josh Sterns added two catches for 52 yards. Junior Ean Beek rushed six times for 35 yards and caught four passes for 42 yards.

Senior safety Patrick Wolfe and junior linebacker Brennan Young led the Huskies with 13 tackles each, while senior linebacker Caleb Johnson also reached double figures with 11 stops. Freshman safety Isaiah Cash made eight and senior defensive lineman Greg Vicent recorded a sack. Senior cornerback Delon Smith came up with his first interception this season.

Luke Anthony was 17-for-30 for 314 yards and five touchdowns and an interception and added a rushing touchdown for the Bulldogs (2-0). Wayne Toussant made three catches for 91 yards and two touchdowns, Isaiah Graham caught three passes for 36 yards and two touchdowns, while Kyle Maxwell and Jawaun Johnson each had a touchdown catch. Justin Henderson rushed 11 times for 77 yards and a score, Israel Tucker rushed nine times for 63 yards and Greg Garner had a rushing touchdown.

Tyler Grubbs made 12 tackles and Trey Baldwin had nine for LTU. Milton Williams, Levi Bell and Tristan Allen each had a sack and Bee Jay Williamson had an interception.

The two teams combined for 1,043 yards of total offense, 542 for LTU and 501 for HBU. The Bulldogs outrushed the Huskies, 182-95, while HBU had 46 more passing yards. LTU had a 46-second edge in time of possession and each team turned the ball over once, both on interceptions. HBU was penalized 16 times for 147 yards, while LTU was only penalized five times for 45 yards.

LTU got on the board first on a 51-yard field goal by Jacob Barnes. LTU had taken possession back at the HBU 34 after Jerreth Sterns was run into by a Bulldog defender, muffed the fair catch, and LTU recovered. No penalty was called on the play.

HBU answered right back as Zappe went 5-for-7 for 67 yards on the Huskies opening drive. He hit Josh Sterns for a 39-yard gain and found Ratzlaff for an 11-yard completion to set up first-and goal at the four. On the next play, Zappe swung a pass to Jerreth Sterns on the left side, then tip-toed the sideline for a touchdown.

The Bulldogs did not waste any time regaining the lead, as Anthony hit Toussant for a 44-yard touchdown to make the score 10-7 with 7:24 to go in the first quarter.

The Huskies marched down the field, 82 yards in 12 plays, as Zappe was 5-of-9 for 38 yards and capped it with a 6-yard touchdown toss to Ratzlaff. Prior to the score, Beek had an 18-yard run to the 17 and Zappe completed an 11-yard pass to Ratzlaff down to the six.

LTU struck back with another deep ball as Anthony found Toussant again, this time from 43 yards out for a touchdown as the Bulldogs led 17-14 after the opening frame. After HBU’s first punt of the game, Henderson broke a 34-yard run to the 15, setting up Anthony’s touchdown pass to Graham.

Williamson picked off Zappe, his first interception of the season, and returned it 27 yards to the HBU 3. Henderson ran it on the next play to give the Bulldogs a 31-14 lead with 12:01 remaining in the half. Anthony added another touchdown pass, another 15-yarder to Graham, as LTU took a 38-14 lead.

Sophomore Gino Garcia made a 42-yard field goal for HBU with 15 seconds left to trim the deficit to 38-17 heading into halftime.

Harris returned a punt 35 yards and a face mask penalty tacked on to the end gave LTU the ball on the HBU 16. After another face mask penalty on the Huskies, the Bulldogs looked poised to open with a score, but Anthony was picked off by Smith in the endzone and he returned it 45 yards.

The Huskies faced a second-and-20 after an intentional grounding call, but Zappe completed a 14-yard pass to Jerreth Sterns, then the same duo hooked up for a 47-yard reception on the next play. Freshman Tyson Thompson made an eight-yard catch and a targeting foul gave HBU first-and-goal at the four. Zappe threw a two-yard touchdown to Jerreth Sterns to make the score 38-24.

The Bulldogs used another big play to keep the Huskies at bay, with Anthony throwing a 41-yard touchdown pass to Juwaun Johnson. LTU used its running game on its next drive, with Israel Tucker opening with a 31-yard carry, then got the next four carries as well, totaling 24 yards to get the Bulldogs down to the three. The Huskies stiffened up for three downs, but Anthony finally plunged in on fourth-and-one as the Bulldogs extended their lead to 52-24.

Zappe led the Huskies on a 14-play, 75-yard drive, beginning with back-to-back 14-yard completions to Ratzlaff. Zappe completed a 13-yard pass to Jerreth Sterns, then scrambled eight yards to the LTU 1, before hitting Ratzlaff on a slant for a touchdown.

Fluellen intercepted Allen, but was called for pass interference, then Allen scrambled for a 16-yard gain down to the HBU 5 to set up Garner’s two-yard touchdown run.

Zappe completed a 38-yard pass to Ratzlaff to set the Huskies up at the LTU 13, then hit Ratzlaff for a 12-yard gain on fourth-and-10 down to the one. Sterns caught his school-record tying third touchdown reception from one yard out.

Westin Elliott found Maxwell for a seven-yard touchdown with 1:15 left for the final score of the game.

The Huskies wrap up their four-game, abbreviated fall schedule when they travel to face fellow Football Championship Subdivision opponent Eastern Kentucky Saturday, Oct. 3 at 2 p.m. CDT in Richmond.

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