Three weeks ago Saturday, the Central Arkansas Bears narrowly beat Missouri State in a 27-20 win in UCA’s only home game thus far.
In that game, Central Arkansas played a game of catch up, falling behind 20-7 with 8:49 left in the third quarter.
The purple Bears were held to 177 yards of total offense, while junior quarterback Breylin Smith struggled throughout the game, completing 9 of 24 passes for 79 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
The rushing attack wasn’t as solid as the coaching staff would have like either, gaining just 98 yards on the ground between senior Kierre Crossley (13 carries for 48 yards), sophomore Cameron Myers (14 carries for 44 yards) and Smith (six carries for 12 yards).
The Central Arkansas special teams also struggled throughout the contest, getting one punt blocked for a touchdown return, two fair catch interference calls and a pair of kicking the ball out of bounds on kickoff penalties.
“I think we naturally took Missouri State a little bit lightly the first time,” UCA coach Nathan Brown said. “They were coming off a one-win season and got blown out by Oklahoma in the game they played before us. I know the coaching staff respected them and knew what they had, but maybe as players, we took them a little bit lightly and we had to fight to win that game. They had a great scheme and did a good job defensively.”
Brown then rightfully said it was the Central Arkansas defense that kept the purple Bears in the game.
UCA was beaten several times on wheel routes from Missouri State quarterback Jaden Johnson and running back/wide receiver Kevon Latulas, but the Central Arkansas front seven wreaked havoc throughout the contest, sacking Johnson nine times.
“He’s going to be a really good player, but he tried to do too much during that game,” Missouri State coach Bobby Petrino said. “He tried to make too many plays, but he did make some good plays, too.”
Johnson ended the game completing 25 of 44 passes for 249 yards and one interception.
Latulas rushed 12 times for 63 yards, while also catching six passes for 83 yards.
He also blocked the previously mentioned punt and returned it for a touchdown.
Ultimately, Central Arkansas rallied to win the game just as it had eight times in 16 previous games.
Smith connected with sophomore wide receiver Tyler Hudson to bring the game within a touchdown.
Dre Matthews picked up a fumble and carried it 30 yards into the end zone for a defensive touchdown, tying the game.
Hudson then scored the deciding touchdown on a 57-yard punt return.
Since then, Central Arkansas played a tough, close game against North Dakota State that resulted in a 39-28 loss and then fell 50-27 against Arkansas State in which UCA had a chance to pull into that game late.
For Missouri State, it went home and prepared for Central Arkansas as Saturday’s game will be MSU’s only game until the spring.
“The unfortunate thing for us is they went home two weeks ago, and the next day, they were preparing for us while we were preparing for North Dakota State,” Brown said. “They’ve had a lot of time to cross their t’s and dot their i’s. Where our weaknesses are and where they need to attack us and do better. We’re playing a little bit of catch up on them as far as scheme and game plan-wise. We’ll be ready to go.”
During this time, Petrino said he has tried to make sure things haven’t gotten too boring and mundane during practice since the game three weeks ago.
“You don’t emphasize the game too much,” Petrino said about the layoff. “You make sure you continue to improve. Our coaches and players have done a great job of getting better.”
Brown said he changed up this week’s schedule leading up to the game because “football is not a routine game.”
Central Arkansas got an extra practice in this week where it would normally do another lift or team meeting.
But, as things stand, Brown said UCA has a bad taste in its mouth because of the previous two losses.
“We’ve got a lot to do and our focus is getting to 3-3 after this week,” he said. “If we can do that, and I think we can, we’ll get that good taste in our mouth. Right now, we have a bad taste in our mouth and we don’t like that. Right now, we’re sitting on Oct. 12 and we are a 2-3 football team. We are not accustomed to that. We’ve got work ahead of us and we’re looking forward to the challenge ahead on Saturday.”
The two teams square off at 7 p.m. Saturday in Springfield, Missouri, with the game being broadcast on 94.1 FM as well as Fox 16.