After standing on the sidelines all season long, University of Central Arkansas redshirt freshman Luke Hales didn’t think he’d get much playing time this season.
Because of injuries to starting sophomore quarterback Breylin Smith and backup junior quarterback Kirk Baugh, Hales was thrusted into starting action against Houston Baptist University in the Bears 66-35 win over the Huskies on Saturday.
“I didn’t think I’d get much playing time at all,” he said. “You can kind of tell in fall camp and practices leading up to the season that Breylin was going to be the guy. Everybody is fine with that. I obviously wanted to play but he was doing his thing and doing really well, so I was trying to support him.”
Smith broke his ankle late in the fourth quarter of the Bears’ 34-31 loss to Sam Houston State on Sept. 29, leaving everyone to believe Baugh would be the starter against HBU.
After Smith broke his ankle, UCA coach Nathan Brown alluded to Hales getting some time at the weekly Bearbackers luncheon on Sept. 30, but he at the time, there was no anticipation that Hales would start.
However, Baugh soon fell victim to a shoulder injury.
“At first, we didn’t know how bad Kirk’s shoulder was,” Hales said. “I think if he could have played, they would have went with him. His shoulder is messed up pretty bad so I became the guy as practice went on that week.”
Hales said he didn’t know he was going to start until Friday night.
Despite that, Hales said he was ready to play despite the late notice on whether he was going to start.
“I was very prepared to get in,” he said. “That’s a credit to coach [Ken] Collums and coach Brown because they got me and BeSean [McCray] ready to roll.”
Hales showed how prepared he was when his first ever collegiate touchdown pass went to senior wide receiver Jakari Dillard on a short post route.
Dillard would run the rest of the way into the end zone for a 65-yard touchdown pass.
“I didn’t expect to get a touchdown on my first pass at all,” Hales said. “We run that play in practice everyday and its usually a 10- to 15-yard play. Jakari ran a great route and got open and took it to the house. It was awesome.”
Hales wasn’t done.
After HBU tied the game, Hales would reach the end zone on his own on a 2-yard touchdown run.
Hales, working as a finely oiled machine, again connected with Dillard on UCA’s third drive of the game on a 31-yard touchdown.
With 3:25 left in the first half, Hales struck like lighting, this time with sophomore wide receiver Brandon Myers on a 71-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the drive.
Passing touchdown No. 3 and fourth overall.
Hales would throw an interception in the opening drive out of the second half, but he would strike again with Myers, this time for 42 yards.
At this point, the Bears led 42-21 and Hales was responsible for five of UCA’s six touchdowns.
Hales would not throw another touchdown until the beginning of the fourth quarter when he and sophomore tight end Joshua Nix connected for a 14-yard touchdown, Hales’ sixth touchdown of the game.
Hales said he was focused on utilizing the game plan that was prepared.
“I think it was playing within the system and playing within my rules that coach Collums and coach Brown made for us,” he said. “I didn’t try to do anything special. I was doing was I was coached to do. The guys around me, the offensive line, the receivers made plays and it was my job to get them the ball and not screw it up. Get them the ball and stay out of the way and that’s what we did.”
Hales said he was focused on the next play, not what happened in the game previously.
“Somebody asked me after the game how many touchdowns I had,” he said. “I honestly didn’t know. I knew we had a lot of points but the defense scored two touchdowns and had four turnovers. I wasn’t worried about what I was doing. I was worried about the next play and doing my job.”
Because of his performance, Hales took home awards, including Southland Conference Offensive Player of the Week as well as STATS FCS Freshman of the Week.
However, winning awards isn’t part of Hales’ goals.
“It’s cool to win those, but it’s not something I focus on,” he said. “I want to maintain that and keep winning. That’s the goal, not the individual goals. I want to win as many games as we can. That’s definitely my main focus.”
Despite losing two quarterbacks within a week, Brown said he wasn’t surprised.
“We expect that from Luke Hales,” he said. “Our expectations don’t change, whether that’s the first-team guy or the last-team guy. That’s why you have four quarterbacks on scholarship. I told the team that you never know when your time is going to come. Luke Hales has been holding a clipboard all season. He hasn’t even sniffed the field. Luke got thrusted in that role and he made the most of it.”
Hales will look to continue piling on the wins when the Bears travel Saturday to Nacogdoches, Texas, to play Stephen F. Austin.
Kickoff is set for 2 p.m.