On a chilly homecoming night at the University of Central Arkansas, the generosity of the Southeastern Louisiana Lions was enormous and had a warming effect on the Bears and the crowd.
The Lions, who had 19 turnovers in their last four games and 22 in the last five (that includes none last week), lost five fumbles and were intercepted four times as UCA coasted to a 55-29 victory before an announced crowd of 10,543, most of whom left early and happy.
It was the fifth straight victory for UCA (6-3, 5-1), keeping it one game behind Sam Houston State in the conference race and marked the most consecutive victories since the Bears have been an NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision member.
The Bears produced 586 yards of offense, by far passing their season high. They passed for 304 and rushed for 282.
"We felt we had a formation advantage," Conque said. "Our offensive line played very well and physical with very negative plays. We had big plays throughout on both sides of the football."
The game had a bit of Halloween season freakishness.
Near the end of the first half, the two teams got into a pushing, shoving match after UCA linebacker Frank Newsome took the ball from a Southeastern player after a fumble. UCA safety Jestin Love was ejected for running into an official. According to a text from SLC commissioner Tom Burnett, Love’s status for future games will depend on a review of the video.
"Jestin plays on edge," Conque said. "I don’t apologize for having our team emotionally ready to play and to play with an edge. We cannot afford not to come out and play with an edge to it. We don’t win many pre-games. But we have to channel that emotion in another direction and play with that edge between the whistles. The matter will be addressed internally."
UCA’s Thomas Hart, a freshman tight end, caught a 22-yard touchdown pass from Nathan Dick, the first touchdown pass caught by a UCA tight end since Marquez Branson in 2008.
Wide receiver Derrick Steele caught a touchdown pass and ran into a Phi Kappa Alpha fraternity sign.
Eight different UCA players scored. Ten caught passes.
Steady at the controls was UCA quarterback Nathan Dick, who completed 20 of 28 passes for 299 yards and five touchdowns, nicely directing the Bear offense. It was the first five-touchdown game by a UCA quarterback since Nathan Brown, currently the quarterbacks coach, threw seven against Texas State in 2007. For his performance, Dick was voted the winner of the L.B. Jackman Award for the most outstanding player in the homecoming game.
"We got into a rhythm on offense and had a lot of things going well," Conque said. "Other than an interception on a bad decision, Nathan had complete command. And we got our running game going."
The Bears led 48-10 going into the fourth quarter before the Lions rallied for three touchdowns to make the score respectable primarily against the UCA reserves.
For another week, an opponent got off to a fast start, but the UCA offense matched things. The teams scored 27 points in less than 15 minutes.
The Lions produced a 42-yard field goal by Seth Sebastian and a 3-yard TD pass from Brian Young to Antonio Duplessis, but the Bears more than matched that with a 42-yard touchdown pass from Dick to Jesse Grandy, a 5-yard run by Terence Bobo and a 41-yard field goal by Eddie Carmara.
The Bears pounded the Southeastern Louisiana defense, vulnerable to the run all season, with a 77-yard, 11-play drive, capped by a 6-yard pass from Dick to Isaiah Jackson to take a 24-10 lead at halftime.
The Bears broke the game open with a 24-point third quarter. They drove 63 yards in six plays to Jackie Hinton’s 3-yard touchdown on the first possession of the third quarter. Dick then passed to Hart for the 22-yard touchdown that was set up by a 48-yard burst by Anthony Blackmon.
After an interception by Marcus Peters, Dick connected with Derrick Steele for a 17-yard touchdown, giving UCA a 45-10 lead with 4:30 left in the quarter. After Dezmin Lewis recovered a fumble on a kickoff return, Carmara booted a 27-yard field goal to put UCA up 45-10 with 1:52 left.
The Lions scored in the fourth quarter when Kory Theodore intercepted Wynrick Smothers and returned it 36 yards for a touchdown. Young passed 14 yards to Kory Theodore and 36 to Simmmie Yarbrough before Conque sent back the first unit to close the game. Dick capped the scoring with a 33-yard pass to Dominque Croom.
"The third quarter we came out and got into a flow and we’re get a lot of folks involved, it’s hard to stop us," Dick said.
The Bears played next week at Northwestern State, one of the remaining one-loss teams in conference.
"We’ve been in playoff mode since the calendar turned October, and I think it helped our focus," Conque said.
"We’ve gone into the games like they are playoff games because we know we have to win every game to have a chance at the end," Dick said. "Every week, we have the mindset that we’ve got to win."