Until the last play of the game, the Central Arkansas Bears were a Hayden Ray missed field goal from the game being tied at 37 on Saturday at Missouri State.
A pair of FCS top 25s traded blows throughout the battle of the Bears, but ultimately, it was the Missouri State Bears that came out on top 43-24.
UCA entered the game ranked No. 16 in the FCS Coaches Poll and No. 19 in the STATS Perform FCS Top 25, while Missouri State No. 25 in the Coaches and 23 in the STATS polls.
“It was back-and-forth,” UCA coach Nathan Brown said. “It was almost one of those deals of who had the ball last was who was going to win. That’s the tough part, when you get a game like that, the offenses are flowing, it just takes one play. And I was just waiting for us to have a chance to get a bat on a ball or maybe get a turnover, but we just couldn’t come up with one. That’s a credit to their quarterback, extending plays, and their big receivers. I was really impressed with what they and coach [Bobby] Petrino were able to do on offense.”
The game was quite slow for the first three quarters as Missouri State led 23-14 after MSU junior kicker Jose Pizano drilled three straight field goals.
UCA climbed within two points after a 3-yard rushing touchdown two minutes into the fourth quarter.
But, the last three minutes were where most of the action happened.
The purple Bears gained their first lead of the game as freshman running back Trysten Smith rushed for a 19-yard score.
Momentum seemed like it was finally on UCA’s side, but MSU junior cornerback Montrae Braswell took the ensuing kickoff 96 yards to retake the lead to return momentum on the maroon Bears’ side.
Pizano’s kickoff went through the end zone, which set up UCA on its 25-yard line with 3:05 left in the game.
UCA junior quarterback Breylin Smith completed a 4-yard pass to Trysten Smith to start the drive and then Breylin and sophomore wide receiver Tyler Hudson, who fought for a 71-yard touchdown to retake the lead for the purple Bears.
Leaving 2:06 on the clock for MSU, it was plenty of time for Petrino’s Bears to command the clock and retake the lead as Utah State transfer and MSU senior quarterback Jason Shelley connected with Western Kentucky transfer and senior wide receiver Xavier Lane on a 26-yard touchdown for a 34-30 lead with 29 seconds on the clock.
Another booming kickoff by Pizano once again set up UCA at its 25-yard line.
The drive went backward and never went forward as Breylin Smith was intercepted by MSU senior linebacker Tylar Wiltz, who took it 45 yards to the house for the game-sealing win in front of 11,000 people at Plaster Stadium.
Though that sealed the game, the penultimate touchdown scored by MSU would have tied the game at 37, save for a 50-yard missed field goal by Ray that fell short of the crossbar in the third quarter.
But, that, along with Breylin Smith’s interception to end the game, wasn’t the only mistake the purple Bears made to lose the game.
Smith had thrown an earlier interception where some miscommunication happened and it took UCA out of a scoring opportunity.
“Credit their offense for making plays when they had to,” Brown said. “I thought our offense made plays. We had the turnover late on our third-to-last possession that was really the killer. That could have added points and added pressure to what they were having to do. But they just made more plays than we did. It was really a second-half duel, just a tough, hard-fought game by both teams.”
Though Central Arkansas is now 2-0 on the season and ranks at No. 25 in both previously mentioned polls, Brown still likes the prospects of how his team will play the rest of the season.
“We had a chance,” Brown said. “Look, we’ve played two pretty good teams. I like the makeup of our team. Nobody wants to be 0-2. That’s the tough part. I guess I just didn’t have us ready to go in these first two weeks. It’s my job to get them ready in Week 3 and I’m looking forward to getting back to work. And I think our guys will respond. I hope they will. We’ve got an older group, so we’ll come to work tomorrow and get better. And that’s all we can do because we have a good UAPB team coming to Conway next week.”
UCA hosts Arkansas-Pine Bluff at 6 p.m. Saturday on the new-look “Stripes.”