JONESBORO — One Wampus Cat redeemed another Saturday night in one of the landmark victories in University of Central Arkansas history.
And the Bears’ secondary, torched on a couple of occasionz, had the final firepower.
Conway’s Brandon Cox, who was playing for Arkansas State two years ago, caught a 16-yard pass in the corner of the end zone with 6:36 left to cap an 86-yard drive and help the Bears to a 28-23 victory over their in-state rival and FBS opponent.
It was the first UCA victory over a higher-division opponent since Western Kentucky in 2009.
ASU last lost to an FCS opponent in 2001 to the Southland Conference’s Nicholls State.
It was the first victory in four tries for UCA over ASU since the series was renewed with occasional matchups in 1996.
Tyler Williams leaped high to intercept an underthrown pass by ASU quarterback Justice Hansen at the UCA 9 with 1:46 left.
Tre Smith knocked down a pass in the end zone on the final play after the Red Wolves (0-4) drove to the UCA 35.
Cox’s TD reception from Hayden Hildebrand came after Conway’s Matt Cummins, who booted of 29, 43 and 25 yards, missed an extra-point attempt after Antwon Wells’ 3-yard run that drew UCA (3-1) to 23-22. That drive got a boost when ASU’s Justin Clifton was called for targeting on a leaping reception by Jatavious Wilson, who caught seven passees for 130 yards.
Cummins’ 45-yarder capped an 86-yard, 15-play drive.
The Bears’ then thwarted an ASU drive to the UCA 12 with a fumble recovery by Jaylin Lofton.
A key to victory was how UCA crushed the Red Wolves’ rushing game, holding them to 45 net yards on 34 attempts, 21 on 26 attempts going into the fourth quarter.
"We’ve got to be able to run the ball," said ASU coach Blake Anderson. "Forty-five on 34 attempts is about as bad as I’ve had a team in a long time. We couldn’t run it against their front ... UCA had a very patient plan and utilized their game plan really well. They keep you off balance."
Smith ignited the Bears by returning a punt 467 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter.
Hansen, making his first start for ASU, completed 21 of 38 passes for 424 yards and three touchdowns — 5 yards to Kendall Sanders, 48 to Warren Wand and 58 to Cam Echols-Luper.
UCA had 382 yards of offense, 112 rushing and 270 passing. Hildebrand, cool and calm, in leading the winning drives in the fourth quarter, completed 18 of 36 passes.
The ASU defense controlled UCA’s running game for the most part. Wells was the leading rusher with 47 yards on 17 carries.
UCA was four of four in the red zone and had four turnovers. UCA did not have a turnover.
I've been very proud before when we've come up short," said UCA coach Steve Campbell. "But this time, we didn't come up short. We played our butts off against Oklahoma State (last year). We played out butts off against Texas Tech (two years ago). And we played our butts off tonight. And it's great to be proud of a team for fighting their butts off and then getting rewarded for winning a football game."
The Bears were nine of 21 on third-down conversions.
UCA returns to Southland Conference play Saturday at Abilene Christian.