SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — The University of Central Arkansas Bears came up on the short end of a frenetic fourth quarter Saturday night and dropped a 43-34 decision to Missouri State in a battle of ranked FCS teams at Plaster Stadium.
The teams combined for 40 points in the fourth quarter, with four touchdowns scored over the final 3:17. No. 16/19 UCA had grabbed a 37-34 lead with 2:14 to play when Breylin Smith hit Tyler Hudson with what the sophomore receiver turned into a 71-yard touchdown run, fighting his way for the final 25 yards. But No. 23/25 MSU turned around and drove 69 yards in seven plays, aided by a pass interference call on UCA, and re-took the lead with a 26-yard touchdown pass from Jason Shelley to Xavier Lane with 29 seconds remaining.
UCA’s last-gasp effort, which began at its own 25 with just 29 seconds left, ended in an interception that MSU’s Tyler Wiltz returned for a touchdown as time expired to set the final nine-point margin.
“Credit their offense for making plays when they had to,’ said UCA head coach Nathan Brown. “And I thought our offense made plays. We had the turnover late on our third-to-last possession that was really the killer. That could have added points and added pressure to what they were having to do. But they just made more plays than we did. It was really a second-half duel, just a tough, hard-fought game by both teams.’
The purple Bears, who swept a pair of games from the maroon Bears a year ago, outgained MSU 453 yards to 374 and averaged 6.8 yards per offensive play. But the team that had the ball last, at least with enough time remaining, got the victory. MSU’s Jason Shelley completed 18 of 36 passes for 231 yards for MSU, with Lane catching nine for 148 yards.
UCA (0-2) trailed 23-14 heading into the fourth quarter but came alive to make it a shootout over the final 15 minutes. UCA took advantage of a 62-yard kickoff return by Christian Richmond and drove 30 yards in seven plays, with freshman tailback Darius Hale scoring from the 2 to close the gap to 23-21. The Bears weren’t through as they started the final scoring spree with a 19-yard touchdown run by fellow freshman Trysten Smith that gave UCA a 27-23 lead with 3:17 to play.
However,, that lead was shortlived as MSU’s Montrae Braswell returned the ensuing kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown and a 30-23 MSU lead with 3:05 left. That set up the long touchdown catch and run by Hudson, who finished with three catches for 104 yards. But again, too much time remained on the clock and MSU scorfed the game-winner with 29 seconds left.
“It was almost one of those deals of who had the ball last was who was going to win,’ said Brown. “And that’s the tough part, when you get a game like that, the offensives are flowing, it just takes one play. And I was just waiting for us to have a chance to get a bat on a ball or maybe get a turnover, but we just couldn’t come up with one.’
The Bears showed a solid running attack in the first half _ led by Hale and Smith _ and trailed by just a field goal at the break. After the defenses dominated early, MSU drove 85 yards in eight plays and got a 2-yard rushing touchdown by Tobias Little for a 7-0 lead with 4:13 left in the opening quarter.
UCA answered with a 12-play, 56-yard drive, capped by Breylin Smith’s 4-yard touchdown pass to senior tight end Sam Camargo. Hayden Ray’s point after tied it at 7-7 at the 9:51 mark of the second quarter. It took MSU less than three minutes to go back in front with a 16-yard quarterback keeper by Jason Shelley, a transfter from Utah State. The PAT made it 14-7 MSU with 7:23 left in the half.
But the purple Bears turned to its running combo of Smith and Hale and drove 61 yards in just seven plays, ending in Hale’s first career touchdown from 1 yard out with 2:46 to play. The maroon Bears re-took the lead in the final seconds with a 39-yard field goal by Jose Pizano.
UCA accumulated 85 yards on the ground _ and averaged 4.3 yards per rush _ in the first half, after accounting for just 42 rushing yards in Week 1 at Arkansas State. Smith had 58 yards and Hale 43. Smith completed 13 of 19 passes for 84 yards as UCA totaled 169 yards of first-half offense.
“We have a chance,’ said Brown. “Look, we’ve played two pretty good teams. I like the makeup of our team. Nobody wants to be 0-2. that’s the tough part. I guess I just didn’t have us ready to go in these first two weeks. It’s my job to get them ready in Week 3 and I’m looking forward to getting back to work. And I think our guys will respond. I hope they will. We’ve got an older group, so we’ll come to work tomorrow and get better.
“And that’s all we can do because we have a good UAPB team coming to Conway next week.’
The Bears will play their first home game of the season on the brand new stripes at First Security Field at Estes Stadium on Saturday when they host Arkansas-Pine Bluff at 6 p.m.