Since its inception in 2008, close contests have come to be expected when McNeese State and Central Arkansas face off in the Red Beans and Rice Bowl.
Saturday’s game went against history as McNeese’s 59-28 victory marked the first time in five years the game was decided by more than four points.
The first quarter and a half at First Security Field at Estes Stadium led many to believe this year’s contest would be no different than the previous four matchups, but a close, back-and-forth game quickly turned into a McNeese State blowout in the final six minutes of the first half.
After Wynrick Smothers connected with Damian Watts on a 39-yard touchdown pass at the 6:21 mark of the second quarter to tie the game at 21, the Cowboys hung 21 unanswered points on the Bears to build a 42-21 halftime lead in route to the massive victory.
McNeese took the lead for good with 4:21 left in the half on a 46-yard pass from receiver Diontae Spencer to fellow receiver Jereon McGilvery.
After the Bears failed to convert on fourth-and-9 from the McNeese 24, the Cowboys extended their lead to 35-21 on a three-play, 76-yard drive. Senior tailback Javaris Murray, who scored on a 12-yard run, set up the touchdown on a 68-yard reception from quarterback Cody Stroud.
The Bears forced a McNeese fumble, deep in Cowboys’ territory, on the first play of the drive, and had multiple defenders in position to recover the ball, however, McNeese State was able to keep possession.
“Anytime you have that many players try to pick up the ball at one time it’s going to be pretty bad,” Bear senior defensive tackle Matt Hornbuckle said. “I think we had four or five guys trying to pick it up.
“Just jump on it,” he said. “That’s what the coaches were saying after the play. We could have given the offense the ball back at around the 25 yard line.”
“We had a chance to at least gain possession of the ball,” coach Clint Conque said. “We were fighting amongst each other for the ball. You can’t fault the effort there, we just couldn’t execute that play completely.”
The half went from bad to worse when a Smothers pass was tipped at the line, and intercepted by Cowboys defensive tackle Kevin Dorn. The McNeese offense took only one play to extend its lead to three touchdowns on a 40-yard pass from Stroud to Spencer.
“It was just a thorough tail whipping,” Conque said.
The quarter began with Bears tailback Blake Veasley helping UCA to a 14-7 lead on a 2-yard touchdown run.
After the teams traded punts, McNeese tied the game at 14 on a 2-play, 80-yard drive, capped off on a 3-yard run by Wiltz with 11:07 left in the half.
The senior tailback set up the touchdown on one of the more odd plays of the game as he was spun, landed on top of a UCA defender, never touched the ground and continued for a 77-yard gain to the UCA 3.
“It was poor tackling,” Conque said. “We had people there that knocked him around, but we didn’t wrap up.”
McNeese took a 21-14 lead at the 8:33 mark of the second quarter when Ryan Bronson intercepted a Smothers pass at the Cowboys 2, and returned it 98 yards for a touchdown.
“I just think that it put us on our heels,” Conque said. “Obviously, a big momentum swing.”
Central Arkansas was never able to mount much of a comeback following the second quarter debacle. The closest the Bears would get was 42-28 early in the third quarter.
“It’s a pretty humbling, embarrassing situation,” Conque said. “This will be a true gut check for us as a football team.”
Central Arkansas hosts Nebraska-Kearney at 3 p.m. Oct. 12.
(Staff writer Lee Hogan can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 505-1246. Follow Lee Hogan on Twitter at https://twitter.com/LCD_LeeHogan. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)