After watching his team being slow out of the gate for the third straight road game, trailing 14-0 to Lamar after two possessions, University of Central Arkansas coach Clint Conque and his staff are mystified.
"We are searching for answers as to the slow starts, particularly on the defensive side of the football," said Conque at Monday’s weekly Bearbacker luncheon at Beef O’Brady’s. "Everything is on the table, from how we travel to how we do pregame to where we stay. What is encouraging is when the defense gets off to a slow start, the offense feels its back is against the wall and puts the pedal down."
After things settled in, the Bears rallied for a 38-24 victory after being tied at 21 at the half against the Cardinals at Beaumont, Texas.
"Outside of one play (a 55-yard touchdown run by backup quarterback Jeremy Johnson, a West Virginia transfer), our defense played very well in the second half and our offense showed some consistency on both sides of the football," Conque said.
The victory was the fourth straight for the Bears (5-3, 4-1) and kept them in the conference race, a game behind Sam Houston State. The four straight victories ties the most for a UCA team since the Bears have been in NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision.
"We’re finding ways to win; at the end of the day that’s what it’s all about," Conque said.
The game turned when the Bears reverted to an up-the-gut rushing game, led by Terence Bobo, who had not seen much action in awhile. UCA rushed for 168 yards.
"Everybody has his role, and when we called Terence’s number, he stepped up," Conque said. "He played with his pads low and ran with power. In today’s football, you can’t have just one good player at every position. You need multiple players.
"What is awesome is players have been able to adjust (passing or running) to what we want them to do."
The Bears also won the turnover battle, sealing the game with a 31-yard interception return by Jestin Love. The UCA defense had five sacks while the Bears surrendered none. Devin Hawkins blocked a field goal attempt in the second half.
Conque also said the key drive of the game possibly occurred when UCA took over at its 15 with 9:21 left and leading 24-17 and used plain power football that consumed almost seven minutes with the Bears giving up the ball at the Lamar 14 with 2:26 left. That drive started with 9:21 left in the game and finished with 2:26 remaining. Love’s clinching interception occurred seconds later.
Saturday, the Bears return home for a 6 p.m. homecoming game against Southeastern Louisiana, a struggling team that righted itself on the way to a 38-28 victory Saturday over Texas State, which had had a perfect record against Southland teams.
"Year in and year out, Southeastern has the best athletes in the conference," Conque said. "We know we cannot continue our success if we keep falling behind by two or three scores. We are the least penalized team in the conference."