LUBBOCK, Texas — Like the posse chasing Butch and Sundance, the University of Central Arkansas Bears just wouldn’t go away Saturday night.
The spunky Bears, in Steve Campbell’s coaching debut at UCA, not only stayed in the rear view mirror in Lubbock, they kept right on the tailpipe of the high-powered Texas Tech Red Raiders of the Big 12.
It was a one-possession game going into the final minutes as the Raiders finally escaped with a 42-35 victory at Jones AT&T Stadium after one of the most impressive performances ever by a UCA team against a major opponent.
They did it before 60,778, the largest crowd for a home opener in Tech history. The student crowd of 15,142 was the second largest in school history.
And they didn’t expect a shootout that went down to the final possession.
"The thing that I am most proud of is the effort that our guys gave," Campbell said "We told our guys that let's don't play any attention to what the score is. If we're up by 10 or down by 10 or whatever. Let's just go out and let's play as hard as we possibly can for as long as we possibly can."
'They (the UCA coaches) had their players ready to go and we didn't," said Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury. "I've got to give Central Arkansas all the credit in the world. They played hard. They had a plan. They expected to win the game."
The Bears had scoring drives consisting of 18, 12, 14 and 15 plays, all directed by quarterback Taylor Reed. They capitalized on a 38-yard interception return by Artez Williams that set them up at the 2. They led 16-7 with 10:38 left in the second quarter.
The Red Raiders which exploited the middle of the UCA defense with shifty backs and receivers for key plays, amassed 636 yards of total offense but were penalized 15 times for 114 yards.
Texas Tech seemed to be prepared to put the game away when it drove 68 yards in 11 plays to take a 28-16 lead on the first possession of the third quarter.
The Bears, who had 406 total yards, kept coming.
A 34-yard field goal by Jace Denker capped a 14-play drive and drew UCA within 28-19. Then a safety, when Ricky Wyatt pressured Davis Webb into an intentional grounding penalty in the end zone, pulled the Bears within 28-21 with 6:20 left in the third quarter.
Webb sent a short pass to Brad Marquez, who made a juke and found a gear for a 70-yard touchdown for a 14-point lead with 12:58 left. Texas Tech, pinned deep in its territory, drove 85 yards in 53 seconds.
The Bears kept coming.
Reed dinked and dunked with the pass and the run in leading the Bears on a 75-yard, 15-play drive for Blake Veasley’s 1-yard run to cut the deficit to 35-28 with 7:47 left.
The Raiders responded by driving 79 yards in eight plays, capped by a 27-yard pass from Webb to Marquez, seemingly a knockout punch with 2:09 left and a 42-28 lead.
But the Bears kept coming, this time with backup quarterback Ryan Howard leading a 87-yard, nine-play drive. His 8-yard pass to Damien Watts pulled the Bears within 42-35 with 2:57 left.
The Raiders finally had to recover their second onside kick and use a 13-yard pass from Webb to Marquez on third and 12 to escape opening night on there High Plains.
UCA, playing relentlessly and aggressively, was six on six on fourth down and six of six in the red zone.
"It was really good to see guys, after they score a touchdown, we respond," said Reed. "We'd go back down and kick a field goal or get a touchdown. It was good to see no matter how big the stage was tonight for UCA, we'd still respond. We played our guts out."
Next up at home for the Raiders in two weeks is another Arkansas team — the Razorbacks.
The Bears open at home Saturday against UT Martin.