NACOGDOCHES, Texas — With a driving rain often coming across the artificial turf in waves, the University of Central Arkansas Bears were swept away Saturday night by a tidal wave created by a surprisingly powerful Stephen F. Austin rushing attack and defense.
With players splashing about at Homer Bryce Stadium, SFA junior running back Gus Johnson created his own splash. The 5-foot-10, 215-pound sophomore ran, slipped and slid to 215 yards on 32 carries and four touchdowns, keying the Lumberjacks’ 42-37 victory over the Bears in their conference opener. It was the most for an SFA back since 2006.
The fire lit by the Bears by their dramatic come-from-behind victory last week was doused by torrential SFA attack in which the UCA defense produced as much scoring dramatics as the offense. The Bears recovered a fumble in the end zone and Jonathan Woodard returned a fumble 74 yards for a touchdown that drew UCA within 42-345 with 4:29 left.
But against the SFA flood, the Bears again seemed to have victory at their fingertips, producing two touchdowns on fumble recoveries, the last on the fumble return by Jonathan Woodard.
With the Bears trailing 42-35 with 3:40 left and the ball at the SFA 40, UCA quarterback Wynrick Smothers went deep to Dominique Croom but Josh Aubrey, stride for stride, intercepted at the UCA 3.
Still, the Bears (3-2, 1-1) held the Lumberjacks (2-3, 1-0) to three and out and took over at the SFA 37 after a punt. Smothers overthrew Dezmin Lewis on first down, missed Croom on a deep pattern on second down. Smothers was stopped on a scramble for 4 yards. His fourth-down pass in the rain slipped through Lewis’ hands.
And with all that, SFA still had to punt from its 13 with 8.5 seconds left. Lumberjack punter Nick Juno took a safety with 3.5 seconds left.
After a squib kick, the Bears took over at their 46 with 2.7 seconds remaining. Smothers, trying a Hail Mary, was sacked hard, producing a fumble.
In the downpour, the teams combined for 13 fumbles, eight lost, two of them producing UCA touchdowns. SFA fumbled 10 times, losing six. UCA lost two of three.
The Bears were held to 217 yards on offense, despite 37 points. The Lumberjacks had 467, 171 on the ground.
— In the first quarter and early in the second quarter, the Lumberjacks missed two extra points, replaced their place-kicker and muffed another with a fumbled snap. They fumbled seven times and lost four.
And powered to a 35-21 lead at halftime.
They did it by jumping out to a quick lead after a 74-yard kickoff return by De’Vante Lacy led to a 2-yard run by Johnson.They did it by drenching the UCA offense, holding the Bears to 97 yards on 36 plays.
They did it by amassing 382 yards of offense in the rain, with a balance of 110 rushing and 272 passing.
Johnson, who entered the game averaging 66.2 per game, rushed for 151 yards on 18 carries in the half and scored three touchdowns.
UCA, fueled by turnover, drove 61 yards for 21 points in the first half.
The Bears took a 14-6 lead on a 10-yard run by Terence Bobo after Jonathan Woodard took a ball away from Marquis Mosley. Eight second later, Markeith Gaines fell on the ball in the end zone and Attaway slid past it trying to recover. A 16-yard pass from Smothers to Croom capped a 51-yard scoring drive.
The Lumberjacks turned things around when Johnson swept toward the sideline late in the first quarter. The UCA defense seemed to let up and the SFA runner slid past everyone for a 66-yard touchdown run.
SFA opened the floodgates late in the second half. A 15-yard pass from Attaway to Lacy, plus a personal-foul penalty, gave SFA possession at the UCA 39. Attaway passed 25 yards over the middle to Cordell Roberon to set up Johnson’s 3-yard run that gave SFA a 28-21 lead with 4:17 left in the first half.
The SFA defense held the Bears to three and out and SFA took over at its 28 with 1:28 left. Attaway utilized the hurry-up offense to set up Attaway connecting with D.J. Ward, who had slipped behind the UCA defense, for a 41-yard gain to the 4.
The Bears appeared to thwart things with an interception by Radarious Winston in the end zone but it became a “no play” when the UCA defense was offside.
On third down from the 2, Attaway fired to Roberson for the touchdown that gave SFA a 35-21 lead with 36 seconds left in the first half with heavier rain punctuating the halftime show.
The Bears return home Saturday against Nicholls State.