To give coach Clint Conque his 100th career victory at the University of Central Arkansas, the Bears had to survive limited firepower and dodge some bullets.
The Bears (2-2) broke a two-game losing streak with a 17-13 victory over Missouri State (0-4).
Neither team scored in the second half.
“This game belongs to our defense, no question about it,” said UCA head coach Clint Conque, who saw his defense hold MSU to just 70 yards of offense in the second half. “I can’t say enough about how well they played, the whole game, but particularly down the stretch in the second half. They just kept giving our offense the ball around midfield and they just kept making plays.
“I thought they played very courageously, showed a lot of mental toughness and physical toughness out there.”
Quarterback Wynrick Smothers, 25 for 36 for 280 yards, connected with Dezmin Lewis for a 75-yard touchdown in the first quarter.
Just as big was a 12-yard connection with the junior receiver on third and eight in the final minutes that allowed the Bears to run out the clock and survive a game of missed field position opportunities.
The UCA defense came up big in the final three minutes with a goal-line stand punctuated by some breaks.
The host Bears drove to first and goal on the UCA 4. On first down, Markeith Gaines stuffed Vernon Scott for a loss of 1. On second down, Derek Floyd sacked MSU quarterback Kiarra Harris for a loss of 11.
On third down, tight end Ryan Boatright, who was wide open, dropped an almost certain touchdown pass. Harris underthrew an open receiver on fourth down with 2:36 remaining, giving UCA the opening to run out the clock.
UCA managed only 67 yards rushing on 27 attempts with the longest a 10-yard gain by Willie Matthews.
Missouri State was held to 289 total yards, 70 the second half.
UCA was seven on 20 on third down; Missouri State was five of 18.
In the first half, Smothers was torrid, completing 21 of 23 passes for 179 yards and two touchdowns.
“We definitely have to get better on offense, but I think we know our identity,” said Conque. “No. 4 (Wynrick Smothers) is playing phenomenal. No. 5 (Dezmin Lewis) came up big, Courtney Whitehead made a couple of clutch catches for us. Our receivers made some big plays.”
He matched an early Missouri State touchdown by connecting with Lewis for 75 yards and a touchdown. The Bears took a 10-7 lead on Jace Denker’s 42-yard field goal.
The host Bears regained the lead with 13:10 left in the second quarter on a 3-yard run by Vernon Scott.
Behind their quarterback, the Bears came back, scoring on an 8-yard pass from Smothers to Chase Dixon on third down to go up 17-13.
Missouri State missed a 42-yard field goal on the last play of the first half.
UCA senior linebacker did not play because of a one-game disciplinary suspension. Offensive lineman Kyle Stouffer, center Alec Willis, linebacker Blake Childress and defensive back Karl Brady were injured during the game.
The Bears have an open playing date this week before returning home for their Southland Conference opener against McNeese State on Oct. 5.
(UCA Sports Information contributed to this report)