Riding a high after a victory over No. 3 Sam Houston State last week, the University of Central Arkansas Bears got hit quickly in the mouth Saturday night by 1-4 Houston Baptist University at Dunham Field in Houston.
UCA (4-1, 3-0), had handily handled HBU (1-4, 0-30 , in the fifth year of its program, the last three years and 56-13 last season, found itself only up 14-7 at halftime. And, except the Huskies missed field goal and a leaping interception in the end zone by the Bears’ Tre Smith, UCA could have trailed or have been tied at intermission.
This is not the Houston Baptist team that has showed up on the UCA schedule the last three years. The sixth-ranked Bears, struggling to find a gear, didn’t come close to a knockout but wore down the Huskies the second half enough for a 27-7 decision.
“They were every bit as good as I thought they would be defensively,’ said UCA head coach Steve Campbell. “They weren’t any better than I thought they were coming in. This is a good football. Any time you win a game in the Southland Conference, you take it and you move on. Especially one that’s nine hours away. This had all the settings of a trap game, and the guys got out of the trap. We had some guys step up and make some plays."
UCA wide receiver Roman Gordon was the major catalyst with 140 yards on five receptions.
After holding the Bears to three-and-out on their first two possessions, the Huskies drove 85 yards in 11 plays to take a 7-0 lead at 7:10 of the first quarter and seemed to have the UCA defense on its heels.
HBU freshman quarterback Bailey Zappe mixed up his passes and and runs for an 85-yard, 11-play drive to give the Huskies an early 7-0 lead in their first home game.
With 5:05 left in the first, Hayden Hildebrand, who completed 19 of 30 passes for 293 yards, tied the game with a 26-yard pass to Gordon.
The Bears took the lead for good on a 39-yard scoring pass to Brandon Myers for a 14-7 lead with 27 seconds left in the first.
Smith’s interception in the end zone (one of four turnovers collected by the Bears) thwarted a potential scoring drive by the Huskies and allowed the Bears to stagger into halftime with a seven-point lead with the home team standing toe-to-toe with the Southland Conference leaders.
Late in the third quarter, the Bears broke the game open after a 52-yard pass from Hildebrand to Gordon, who was left all alone down the sideline. Hildebrand scored on a sneak for a 21-7 lead.
Matt Cummins gave the Bears a cushion with second-half field goals of 33 and 26 yards.
The Bears were limited to 118 yards rushing by an aggressive HBU defense, led by All-America linebacker candidate Garrett Dolan.
UCA defense began controlling a field position battle in the second half, limiting HBU to 46 total yards rushing. Zappe passed for 225 yards.
The Bears had three double-digit tacklers, led by linebacker Raphael Garner. George Odum had 12 and Juan Jacksoin 10.
UCA returns home Saturday to play Stephen F. Austin on Hall of Fame Weekend.