University of Central Arkansas football coach Clint Conque took his supporters through some of the intricacies Monday of one of the greatest victories in school history — a come-from-behind, 24-20 victory over No. 3-ranked Sam Houston State.
The Bears scored two touchdowns within the final 3:18 and drove down the field twice in the final 5:24 to win the game.
"One question was how we could control a two-minute, hurry-up situation and continue to hold our poise," Conque said at the weekly Bearbackers luncheon. "Wynrick Smothers (quarterback) hit four checkdowns and went to underneath routes when the deep routes were covered during a touchdown drive (75 yards in eight plays to draw the Bears within 20-17). That shows growth and maturity. When you don’t have the primary routes open under pressure, it’s easy to forcce things."
UCA was two of two in the red zone (20 yards in); Sam Houston State was three of four, missing a field goal in the first half.
"In the red zone, our kids on defense are executing at a high level," Conque said. "We are averaging 88 percent scoring in the red zone and we’re giving up scores at 46 percent, which is phenomenal and can make a difference in games like this."
Then he turned to third down conversions. UCA was 7 of 15. Sam Houston was five of 16 on third down.
"To convert right at 50 percent on third down is really good against that type of attacking defense," Conque said. "To hold them to about 30 percent means you’re getting your defense off the field. They (the Bearkats) punted more times in that game than they had the last two. That gives us more possessions and more opportunities."
He said it was vital that quarterback Smothers was sacked only once.
"I think our offensive line grew up," Conque said. "It allowed us to present some kind of a running game and stay out of negative plays because of sacks. Their defensive line was just as big and just as physical as Ole Miss. Jackie Hinton (running back) ran hard and physical.
"Wynrick was completing 78 percent of his passes going in. I thought against that style of defense that if he could hit 58 to 60 percent the yards would come because we would be throwing deep against man coverage. We knew he would be able to extend plays (such as his 17-yard touchdown scramble with 3:18 left) because once you get past the line, everyone is in man coverage and has his back turned."
He said he suspected the game might play out as it did — going to the final play with a "Hail Mary" pass in the end zone.
"We knew there would be momentum shifts and fortunately, we got the last push in," he said. "There were good plays, poor plays, spectacular plays throughout the game."
INJURIES: Conque said linebacker Rojae Jackson sustained a thigh injury but should be ready for Saturday’s game at Stephen F. Austin. Wide receiver Al Lasker is coming off a two-game, disciplinary suspension.
"We should have all our bullets," said Conque — except for fifth-year senior running back Anthony Blackmon, who tore an ACL in practice last week and is lost for the season.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK: Smothers and wide receiver Dominique Croom shared offensive honors. Karl Brady, who made an interception in the end zone on the last play, earned the coaches honors for the defense and special teams. Conque also praised Eddie Carmara for kicking a 25-yard extra point after a penalty that proved to be the winning points. "It was exactly the same type of kick he missed against Ole Miss," Conque said.
RANKINGS: The Bears rose to 14th and 16th in two national polls, the first time they have ever been ranked ahead of perennial national powers Appalachian State, Montana and Northern Iowa.
THIS WEEK: The Bears play Stephen F. Austin (1-3) in the Lumberjacks’ conference opener at Nacogdoches, a team Conque described as a "scoring machine, one that has met a pass or a vertical throw they didn’t love, not just like."
Conque added, "We’ve buried the (Sam Houston) game now in this building. We’re moving on. What’s important now is what we do with this."