In the first NCAA Division I game in their history Thursday night, the Incarnate Word Cardinals ran smack dab into the University of Central Arkansas’ well-oiled buzzsaw.
The Cardinals’ wings were almost fully clipped in less than a quarter.
The veteran Bear defense almost completely shut down the Incarnate Word offense and the UCA offense was lethal and efficient.
After a sweltering afternoon, UCA’s season opener at First Security Field at Estes Stadium turned into an evening of celebration, fellowship, tailgating and meet-and-greet with a 58-7 romp before 10,455 spectators.
Incarnate Word, a fifth-year program up from the Lone Star Conference of NCAA Division II, is one of the newest members of the Southland Conference and will play a full league schedule next year.
As they bussed away from Estes Stadium, the Cardinals were probably excited about taking on the NAIA’s Texas College Steers next week.
The Bears, now 12-0 on “The Stripes,” go into next week’s game against the Colorado Buffaloes under a full head of steam.
They made a statement from the beginning, winning the toss and taking the ball, driving 70 yards in 10 plays for a touchdown. They scored on their first three possessions (two on rushes by backup running back Blake Veasley) and didn’t punt in the second half, building a 30-0 lead at halftime, outgaining the Cards, 360-101 and 8-1 in first downs. They finished with a 523-231 advantage in total yards.
Ten different receivers caught passes, led by sophomore Blake Gardner with 10.
Three players scored the first touchdowns of their careers for the Bears: Veasley on runs of 11 and 18 yards, wide receiver Jatavious Wilson on pass receptions of 29 and 36 yards and running back Danzel Williams runs of 1 and 3 yards. Wilson, one of the most dynamic freshman players in recent history, returned a kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown. He had 105 yards in receptions.
“He can go from zero to 60 pretty fast,” said UCA coach Clint Conque.
Senior quarterback Wynrick Smothers completed 23 of 26 passes for 234 yards and one touchdown in the first half. He left the game for good after the first series of the third quarter after being sacked for the only time. He finished 27 of 31 for 267 yards and one touchdown. All three quarterbacks who played (Smothers, Ryan Howard and Taylor Reed) led touchdown drives.
“I thought we came out on point and focused,” said Conque. “I was disappointed in some special teams play. Our defense gave up one (TD) with some reserves in. We’ve got some things to clean up.”
The second-half began with a double-whammy by the Bears’ Desmonds on the kicking game. Dezmin Lewis blocked a punt and Desmond Smith recovered it in the end zone.
But it was not an entirely perfect evening. Wilson dropped a sure touchdown pass. Williams made the most spectacular run of the evening and had the ball stripped. Eddie Camara booted a 42-yard field goal after a 37-yarder was nullified because of a penalty. But he missed an extra point.
The half ended with the Cardinals’ Daryl Brooks making a leaping reception at the 1.
Freshman quarterback Trent Brittain, who had a gritty effort in a hopeless cause, broke the shutout with a 38-yard touchdown run with 4:00 left.
Wilson responded by rambling through the Incarnate Word defense, setting up his blocks nicely on the 93-yard touchdown return.