HAMMOND, La. -- Back-to-back touchdowns just a minute apart in the third quarter carried Central Arkansas to a 33-25 victory over Southeastern Louisiana Saturday in the Bears' Southland Conference opener at Strawberry Stadium.
The Bears (2-1, 1-0) opened defense of their 2017 Southland Conference championship with their fourth consecutive victory over Southeastern (0-3, 0-1). They broke open the game with 20 points in the second half after leading just 13-10 at halftime.
The game lasted almost five hours after a weather delay of an hour and 17 minutes halted play with seven minutes remaining in the game. It was the second extended weather delay for Central Arkansas in two weeks.
"Our guys played with a lot of grit and a lot of tenacity," said UCA head coach Nathan Brown. "Any time you have a game like that that didn't start out like we thought it could have and should have, our guys fought through it and we got a lead at halftime. We made some adjustments at halftime and then had some big plays there in the first part of the (second) half.
"Then to get the weather delay... we were kind of seasoned on that from last week. But it was on the road this week, smaller locker room, late in the game, all those things. That would have been an easy game to let the momentum shift on us. But I thought our guys handled it the best they could."
Sophomore quarterback Breylin Smith, in just his third career start, completed 22 of 31 passes for a career-high 329 yards and four touchdowns, also a career high. Sophomore receiver Brandon Myers from Plant City, Fla., was his preferred target, catching four passes for a career-high 170 yards and a pair of long touchdowns.
Smith connected with Myers for a 43-yard scoring strike in the second quarter, then added a 61-yarder to a wide-open Myers in the opening minute of the fourth quarter. That score gave the Bears a 33-17 lead, and junior cornerback Trai Mosley more or less sealed it with an interception deep in Central Arkansas territory with 12:25 left to play.
"The first two weeks were weren't really able to shake loose on deep balls," said Brown. "That was big for us to get that on film and show that we've got the ability to do that, take the ball down the field. Brandon Myers had a big night. Joe Hampton had a big catch down our sideline. Just really pleased with the way the receivers played. I thought Breylin threw the ball very accurately all night. A really big night for him.
"It's a lot to build on. We've got a week off to rest and reenergize and get ready for a tough Sam Houston team."
Sophomore running back Carlos Blackman scored on a six-yard run at the 12:13 mark of the third quarter, good for a 20-13 lead. After junior defensive end Chris Terrell recovered a Southeastern fumble at the Lions' own 25-yard line, Smith tossed a 15-yard touchdown strike to senior Jakari Dillard on the third play of the drive for a 27-10 advantage.
The Lions got a two-yard rushing touchdown from Marcus Cooper, but Central Arkansas struck again with Myers capping a two-play scoring drive with his 61-yarder.
The Bears took advantage of a targeting penalty by Southeastern linebacker Tamarcus Russell and drove 86 yards in five plays to take a 13-7 lead with just 49 seconds left in the first half. Smith hit Cedric Battle with a short pass and the senior from Wichita Falls, Texas, weaved his way for 40 yards and a touchdown to give the Bears their first lead of the game.
The Lions answered with a 41-yard field goal as time expired to make it 13-10 at halftime. Central Arkansas ran just 31 plays for 206 yards in the opening half, but averaged 6.6 yards per play.
Southeastern found the end zone first with an 11-play, 75-yard drive on its opening possession, capped by Darren Johnson's two-yard run with 11:00 left in the first quarter. Central Arkansas finally matched that touchdown when Smith tossed a 43-yard touchdown pass to sophomore Brandon Myers with 9:49 left in the second period. The point after failed, leaving the Bears down 7-6.a
Senior receiver Lester Wells caught a career-high 10 passes for the Bears, topping his nine receptions in last week's win over Murray State (0-3). Blackman led all rushers with 70 yards on just 13 carries for a 5.4-yard average.
The Bears finished with 443 yards of total offense while the Lions had 496, but ran 21 more offensive plays. Southeastern, which added a late touchdown with 1:24 remaining, also had 16 penalties for 140 yards, while Central Arkansas had just four for 34 total yards.
Central Arkansas has its open date Saturday before traveling on Sept. 29 to Huntsville, Texas, to face Sam Houston State (1-1), currently ranked No. 4 in the Football Championship Subdivision.Sports on 09/17/2018
Print Headline: Bears down Lions in Southland opener