About the time the bouncy castle deflated and collapsed in the corner of the end zone Saturday night, so did Lamar.
The Cardinals, taking most of the wind out of the game early, played keep-away nicely and limited the Bears to a few flurries in the University of Central Arkansas’ 24-14 victory before 9,374 at First Security Field at Estes Stadium.
On a Family Day afternoon and evening in which the University of Central Arkansas created a carnival atmosphere, the Bears’ Jesse Grandy did some gyrations on a punt return and Jackie Hinton started spinning.
With UCA leading 10-0 in a ho-hummer of a first half, the Bears saved most of the thrill stuff for the final two minutes. Grandy juked past the initial defender and returned a punt to the Lamar 48. Five plays later, Hinton broke three tackle attempts with a triple-spinning run down the sideline to the Lamar 26. A play later, quarterback Wynrick Smothers connected with Dominique Croom in the back of the end zone for a touchdown to give UCA a 17-0 lead on the way to a uninspiring victory over the Cardinals.
The victory wasn’t much fun for UCA Clint Conque as he saw the Bears surrender two long touchdown drives in a second half in which his team had only four possessions.
He saw more emotion from youngsters in the Kids Zone than he often saw on the field.
“We like the win but we didn’t play well and it’s my responsibility to make sure this team is ready to play each week and each half,” he said. “I have to make sure we are emotionally and physically ready to play. It’s my fault. I assure you our player will be better prepared next week.”
UCA (6-2, 4-1) set up a road showdown next week against Southeastern Louisiana, unbeaten in the Southland Conference.
The Cardinals (3-5, 0-3) tried a methodical, fundamental, sleep-inducing attack to try to shorten the game, a strategy that demanded good defense and efficiency on offense.
The Bears held Lamar to 25 yards rushing and 79 yards total offense the first half.
The most significant activity in a scoreless first quarter occurred when Smothers connected with Grandy, who played the ball magnificently, for 40 yards to the Lamar 4. Short-yardage quarterback Jacoby Walker overcame a false-start penalty with a 1-yard run on fourth down to cap a 86-yard, 12-play drive to give the Bears a 7-0 led at 14:57 of the second quarter.
UCA then drove 46 yards to Eddie Camara’s 33-yard field goal for a 10-0 lead.
The half became so methodical that the collapse of the blow-up contraption in the kiddie area almost stole the show — until the Bears, with no timeouts, again executed nicely their hurry-up offense to take a 17-0 lead.
“Five possessions in the first half, we scored on three; very businesslike effort,” said UCA coach Clint Conque. “But it was not inspiring overall and that was my fault.
The Cardinals came out in no hurry and patiently whipped UCA with basic runs between the tackles. They drove 74 yards in 14 plays with nickel-and-dime runs and no passes (taking 7:21 off the clock) in drawing with 17-7 at 1:51 of the third quarter.
Smothers and Grandy again woke up the UCA offense as the UCA quarterback connected with the receiver at midfield. Grandy executed a spin move and outran the Cardinal coverage for a 75-yard touchdown that pretty much wrapped up things at 10:00 of the fourth quarter.
Almost as soon as Grandy crossed the goal line, the bouncy castle went down again.
So did UCA’s intensity.
Huddling and in no hurry, the Cards again used their ground game to pretty much run out the clock on a 67-yard, 16-play drive to DePaul Garrett’s 4-yard touchdown run with 1:18 left. That drive took 8:35 off the clock.
Lamar had 171 yards rushing the second half. For the game, the Cardinals ran 73 plays to UCA’s 53. They were eight of 17 on third down and three for three on fourth down, including a 23-yard gain on a fake punt that led to their second touchdown.
UCA had 337 yards of offense, including 127 yards on four receptions from Grady. Smothers completed 20 of 27 passes for 271 yards.
“Bottom line, they ran up and down the field on us the second half,” Conque said. “We couldn’t get off blocks. We didn’t tackle well and we couldn’t get off the field on third down.”