Ryan Howard led the University of Central Arkansas homecoming parade Saturday.
It was a long one with lots of moving parts that contributed to the 66-31 victory over Stephen F. Austin at First Security Field at Estes Stadium.
"Our coaches did a good job making use of all our working pieces," said UCA coach Clint Conque, who is 13-1 on homecoming at UCA.
Howard, subbing for the injured Wynrick Smothers, completed 18 of 30 passes for 403 yards and four touchdowns as the Bears made great use of 681 yards of offense in 72 plays. The Lumberjacks (3-5-1, 1-2) had the exact same amount of offense in 102 plays.
"I’ve seen the physical progress in Ryan," Conque said. "He’s very steady, poised and a mature leader."
Howard was voted by the media as the recipient of the L.B. Jackman Award for the outstanding player in the homecoming game.
"The momentum from last week carried over," Howard said referring to the come-from-behind victory over Lamar.
Three different receivers had five catches or more with Dezmin Lewis leading the way with five for 160 and two touchdowns. Four of them caught touchdown passes, including freshman Jose Moore’s first career catch resulting in a 64-yard touchdown. Moore just had his redshirt taken off last week.
The Bears averaged 20.3 yards per completion.
"Ever since I’ve been here, we’ve had playmakers at receiver," Howard said. "And when you get the ball to them, they get yards after catch."
"I’m glad the coaches put me in the spot to make plays and Ryan puts it in there every time," said Lewis.
"They put the ball up and their receivers made plays," said SFA coach J.C. Harper. "They outplayed us, slammed the door."
But Howard and the receivers had plenty of support as UCA (5-3, 2-1) scored the most points on SFA by an FCS team since 1995.
Linebacker Justin Heard had a career-high 15 tackles.
"SFA is a team with an offense you don’t stop; you just slow down," said Conque. "We did that tonight."
The parade of heroes continues:
Freshman Jatavious Wilson returned the opening kickoff of the second half 85 yards for a touchdown and produced 314 all-purpose yards, a school record.
Marvin Mitchell had a 98-yard interception return for a touchdown.
Freshman running back Kelton Warren, who had a redshirt taken off him last week, had an 81-yard run for a touchdown.
Wilson’s 54-yard kickoff return and Lewis’ 45-yard touchdown reception with 12:40 left in the second quarter helped the Bears start to put distance between them and the Lumberjacks with a 21-10 lead that quickly grew with Wilson’s kickoff return that began one of the wildest third quarters in Estes Stadium history.
The teams combined for eight scoring plays in the 52-point third quarter that ended with the Bears moving to a 58-24 lead.
The contest had a rat-at-tat pace like the teams were vying for teddy bears at the state fair. There were nine scoring drives of a minute or less, seven by UCA. The most time-consuming drive (4:05) was SFA’s 66-yard, 13-play drive to a field goal midway through the first quarter.
"Sometimes our offense was our best defense," said Conque, noting the Bears averaged 9.2 yards per play. "All three phases contributed. I know some people gave us up for dead after we lost to McNeese State. But I like this team. I like our work ethic in practice."
UCA’s nine touchdowns was the most it has scored since 2007 against Texas State.
"We’re not there but we took a significant step tonight with motivation and confidence," said Conque after the Bears’ third straight win. "These kids have desire. We’re a pretty cool football team right now."