Probably the University of Central Arkansas’ biggest victory as an NCAA Division I member was crafted with several little plays wrapping, fortifying nuggets of big plays.
The Bears’ 24-20 victory Saturday over No. 3-ranked Sam Houston State had no single, dramatic turning point.
Just an assortment of twists that ended up pointing in UCA’s favor.
Fans will remember Wynrick Smothers guiding the Bears to two touchdowns, one without a timeout in the final 6:03. They’ll remember his 41-yard his 17-yard TD juking, weaving TD scramble that drew UCA within 20-17. They’ll remember his perfect 41-yard pass to Dominque Croom that set up a 26-yard touchdown pass to Croom that proved to be the winning score with 57 seconds left.
They’ll remember that wild, tipped-pass, scrum of a winner-take-all scramble in the end zone on the final play.
But here are the juicy, obscured fillings that led to one of UCA’s sweetest victories in years.
• The Bears managed 95 yards rushing. On the surface, that’s hardly spectacular. But they had to present some kind of semblance of a running game to win.
“I’m not sure we’ve had a total of 95 yards rushing against that defense the last two years,” said UCA coach Clint Conque. “Doesn’t seem like much, but it was big.”
• With UCA with in 20-17 with 3:18 left and no timeouts, UCA almost had to hold the Bearkats, who had overpowered them with their option early in the second half, to three-and-out. Jeremy Jester and Justin Heard threw two of the Bears’ nemeses all afternoon, running back/quarterback Richard Sincere and quarterback Brian Bell, for lost-yardage plays. Then on third and 15, Bell connected with Trey Diller over the middle. Radarious Winston made a lunging tackle to stop him a yard short of the first down. A first down and UCA’s comeback hopes are hanging by a quickly-unraveling thread.
• UCA takes over at its 28 with 2:11 left and immediately gets a delay-of-game penalty. After Smothers runs for two, he fumbles the snap, picks it up and executes an emergency shuttle-pass to Terence Bobo, who runs for 8 yards.
“I was lucky I didn’t get hit because the ball was right in front of me when I was running to pick it up,” Smothers said. “I was lucky it bounced to me and Bobo was right in front of me and I was able to get it to him for a gain. Only thing I could do.”
Seconds later, Smothers connects with Croom for two passes that result in the winning touchdown.
Because of a false-start penalty, place-kicker Eddie Carmara had to kick a 25-yard extra point, no cinch in that situation.
• Nicely executing its hurry-up drill, the Bearkats drive from their 15 to the UCA 24, where Karl Brady makes an interception in the end zone to preserve the victory.
In the shadows of that spotlight was a bigime tackle made by Dominque Brown. Bell passed 9 yards to Diller along the sideline. Brown pushes him away from the sideline and makes the tackle to keep the clock running. That forced Sam Houston to take its final timeout with 18 seconds left. More importantly, it probably took away two plays.
“We made the plays we had to make in all three phases,” said UCA coach Clint Conque. “We had to win all three phases to win this game.”
And the foundation of each phase was held up by small bolts — with the game on the line if any unravel.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or email@example.com)