UCA Football photo

The University of Central Arkansas defense smothers Missouri State junior running back Kevon Latulas in the backfield. UCA tallied 16 tackles for loss in the 27-20 win.

Saturday’s 27-20 win over Missouri State is something that Central Arkansas fans have gotten used to.

So much so that Bears superfan Eric Fulton was not fazed by the 17-7 Missouri State halftime lead.

“It would not surprise me if UCA ends up winning the game,” Fulton tweeted after an Twitter update on the game.

Fulton tweeted postgame, “Didn’t surprise me one bit UCA won the game. I called it. The cardiac purple Bears did it again.”

Fulton’s confidence in Central Arkansas never wavered despite the offense sputtering throughout, and he has great reason to doubt UCA would have lost that game.

In its last 16 games, Central Arkansas has come from behind to come out on top eight times.

But, playing behind is not ideal, especially against a team that went 1-10 last season.

UCA coach Nathan Brown said that momentum could have easily been shifted early for a Central Arkansas team that was playing its first game in 21 days.

“We needed to bust some rust off,” he said. “We missed a field goal, which would have been big to get three. If we would have gotten seven on that first possession – we had Tyler twice on that possession – that would have been a huge momentum shift. I think that would have changed the game and maybe the trajectory of the way our offense flowed. Give credit where credit is due. Missouri State did a great job.”

The field goal that was missed came from 22 yards out on the leg of junior kicker Hayden Ray, who has been dealing with a groin injury.

That missed field goal would have put Central Arkansas on the board, but headed to the second quarter without a score and then Missouri State used the second quarter to build a 17-7 lead by halftime and eventually a 20-7 lead with 8:49 left in the third quarter.

UCA’s fortune was in for a turn when junior quarterback Breylin Smith connected with sophomore wide receiver Tyler Hudson on a 7-yard slant, cutting the lead to 14 after Ray missed the extra point with 1:18 left in the third.

Central Arkansas tied it up one play later when senior defensive end J.W. Jones sacked Missouri State quarterback Jaden Johnson, who lost control of the ball.

That allowed junior linebacker Dre Matthews to pick up the ball at the MSU 30 and take it the rest of the way for a touchdown.

“Dre did a great job, scooping and scoring,” Brown said. “We coach that on defense. We coach to strip the ball and to produce turnovers. We also coach that we don’t want the offense back on the field. People don’t realize how fast Dre is and Dre did a great job being athletic, getting his weight down, and scooping the ball as opposed to falling on it and getting into the end zone was huge.”

But, the purple Bears weren’t finished there as Hudson returned a punt 57 yards for a score, giving UCA a 27-20 lead with 14:11 left to play.

“That right there settled me down,” Hudson said. “I was getting really frustrated with something I couldn’t control. When I got that punt return, I was like ‘OK. Settle down and let’s try to make something happen. My teammates just opened up the gap and I scored. Everybody was smiling and I was smiling. After that I was still thinking we could win this game by a bunch, but we have to pick it up. I was happy but not satisfied.”

The Central Arkansas defense stepped up for the team as it had throughout to preserve the win.

“Our guys believed,” Brown said. “You look up and down the sideline, you don’t see long faces. You don’t see guys with their feelings hurting. We know that if it’s a one or two possession going into the fourth quarter, we’ve just done it. If you’ve done it, you have to believe. That’s what our guys have done. You’re never going to see me with a long face on the sidelines. You’re going to see me have poise. I think Breylin has poise at quarterback and that helps too. I think we have a lot of older guys on defense, they have poise. They have been on the field the last possession of games to win it a lot and that’s what they did here.”

The Central Arkansas offense struggled throughout, gaining 177 yards of total offense and special teams blunders allowed Missouri State some extra chances.

There were two fair catch interference calls against UCA as well as a blocked punt which turned into an MSU touchdown among other special teams miscues.

But, the Central Arkansas defense played as a strength throughout the contest.

It did give up big plays on wheel routes, but ultimately, the defense stepped up when UCA needed it to.

Nine different defenders recorded a sack along with 16 tackles for loss caused Johnson to run for his life at times.

“It’s just what we practiced,” Matthews said. “Coach Chad Williams and coach Brown told us we did a pretty good job in practice leading up to the game. I think it’s just practice. Practice don’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect and we sure strive to have a perfect practice. I think just what we do in practice and the mindset we came out with helped us win the game and be physical on the D-line and in the box.”

Central Arkansas will now turn its focus to a North Dakota State dynasty that has been atop the FCS for some time now and is currently on a 23-game winning streak.

UCA travels Saturday to Fargo, North Dakota for a 2:30 p.m. kickoff.

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