University of Central Arkansas football coach Steve Campbell was happy about how his team handled its longest road trip of the season Saturday with a 56-10 victory over Incarnate Word at San Antonio, Texas.
“We talked about handling the distance (about 11 hours via bus) and the guys told me they didn’t care, that they would crawl there for a conference championship,” Campbell said at Monday’s weekly Bearbacker luncheon.
The Bears (9-1, 8-0) clinched a share of the Southland Conference title. They can win it outright with a victory in the regular-season finale Saturday afternoon at Estes Stadium.
UCA set the tone quickly with Juan Jackson’s interception return for a touchdown on the first play of the game. Jackson returned an interception for an apparent touchdown on the first series in the previous game against Lamar, but it was called back because of a penalty.
“We wanted to start fast and we could not have had a better way to start the day,” Campbell said of Jackson’s pick-6 against UIW.
The Bears scored on all but one possession the first half in building a 42-3 lead.
Because the Cardinals had been strong all season in the kicking game, Campbell said the UCA coaches put an emphasis on special teams.
“They had had one player who had already blocked five punts this season, so we put an emphasis on protecting Patrick Ponder (our punter),” Campbell said. “Ponder netted over 40 yards per punt and we recovered two fumbles off punts.
“One of their players (Daniel Hite) had returned three kickoffs for touchdowns against good teams, McNeese State, Southeastern Louisiana and Sam Houston State. We blocked a kick (by Nathan Grant) that set up and touchdown so special teams got things going with great execution.”
The Bears, No. 3-ranked and winners of nine straight, will be in the 24-team NCAA FCS playoffs. They need a victory over Abilene Christian to clinch a national seed, which would give them a bye in the first round and a home berth until the title game as long as they are a higher seed against their opponent.