The University of Central Arkansas Bears, who were left waterlogged ahd limping after a monsoon defeat last week, shot through the rain and created waves of their own offensively and defensively in the third quarter Saturday night against Nicholls State.
More importantly, the UCA defense drained the Colonel offense.
It all resulted in a 34-14 victory over the Colonels before 4,356 hardy fans in the face of a cold rain at First Security Field at Estes Stadium.
The Bears, who had 511 yards of offense, held the Colonels, who had 297 yards at the half, to a net of 70 yards the second half.
They began turning things around by coming off on the positive end of an exchange of field goal attempts the first half.
With quarterback Wynrick Smothers, limping but steadying himself at the controls after injuring an ankle last week against Stephen F. Austin, providing the impetus, the Bears used some hard running by Jackie Hinton and receiving by Jesse Grandy and Dominque Croom in breaking through with a 14-point third quarter.
Smothers, who was in a walking boot most of the week and had limited reps in practice, returned to the walking booth after the game. He did that after completing 31 of 43 passes for 289 yards, one touchdown.
"I felt all right," he said. "What I was concerned was doing everything I could to help our team to victory," he said. "I knew they were depending on me."
Once the Bears plugged the leaks on their defense, they pushed the Colonels about at the line of scrimmage.
The victory kept the Bears (4-2, 2-1) among the Southland Conference leaders. The Colonels, playing their conference opener, fell to 1-3.
Trailing 14-13 at the half, the Bears converted fourth down twice on a 63-yard, 11-play drive to take the lead for good in the third quarter. One of the fourth-down conversions was a 13-yard pass from Smothers to Grandy. Terence Bobo scored the touchdown on a sweep.
“We needed to play with more execution both offensively and defensively in the second half and we did that for the most part,” said UCA coach Clint Conque.
Grandy, who had 111 yards on 13 receptions, seemed to provide a staggering punch when he juked through the Nicholls defense for a 61-yard on a punt return.
Grandy made that up with getting the yardage back in small chunks with three straight pass receptions. The Bears drove to the NSU 13, where Smothers connected with Croom a a 13-yard fade route for the touchdown that gave UCA a 27-14 lead with 6:15 left in the third.
After an interception by Dillon Winfrey, the Bears drove to the NSU 2 in the final 20 seconds. Smothers, who came in seemingly to run the victory formation, was waved off the field and backup Jacoby Walker scored the touchdown from the 2. Tempers flared when Eddie Camara kicked the extra point.
“We’re not the biggest, the fastest or the strongest, so we have to play with an edge,” said Conque. “We just can’t go over the edge. We did that a few times tonight.”
Although they gave up possibly seven points, the Bears got the better end of an exchange of field goal attempts at the end of the first half.
The Colonels, who had 297 yards of offense in the half, drove to the UCA 5, then Ben Landry missed a 23-yard field goal attempt.
The Bears, who had 259 yards of offense in the period, got their hurry-up offense going and drove to the Nicholls 32, then were set by by a false start and a personal foul penalty, the latter wiping out an 11-yard pass to Dominque Croom.
Eddie Camara booted a 42-yard field goal to pull UCA within 14-13 at the half.
It was typical of a half that was an exchange of big plays.
UCA, converting two third-down opportunities, drove 76 yards in 13 plays for a touchdown, capped by Hinton’s 1-yard run off tackle.
Less than a minute later, the Colonels struck the middle of the UCA defense for a 72-yard pass from Klann to Jesse Turner that set them up at the UCA 4, where Marcus Washington scored on a sweep to tie the score at 7 with 3:13 left in the first quarter.
The Bears drove 74 yards but sputtered in the red zone, setting again for a field goal, this time 22 yards from Camara.
Again, the Colonels lit the torch to the UCA secondary, striking on a 79-yard touchdown pass from Klann to Erick Buchanan to take a 14-10 lead with 10:53 left in the quarter.
UCA drove to the Nicholls 15 but again had red zone problems as Smothers, hit while attempting a pass, fumbled the ball away at the Nicholls 20.
Hinton, who rushed for 106 yards on 18 carries, had one of his strongest efforts in the last couple of years.
"We knew we had to run the ball to win," he said. "I give a lot of credit to our offensive line. They seemed to get a good push."
UCA plays next week at McNeese State.