UCA BACK ON WINNING TRACK WITH 31-0 SHUTOUT
CONWAY — The University of Central Arkansas defense pitched a shutout and the Bears’ offense rolled up 462 yards of offense Saturday in a 31-0 victory over Nebraska-Kearney in non-conference action at First Security Field at Estes Stadium.
The 20th-ranked Bears (3-3) allowed just 97 yards of offense through the first three quarters of action and had rushing touchdowns from three different players to break away from a 10-0 halftime lead. UCA’s last shutout was a 34-0 victory over Northwestern State in 2009.
UCA opened the game with a season-high 18-play, 83-yard drive, but had to settle for a 21-yard Eddie Camara field goal for an early 3-0 lead. Senior quarterback Wynrick Smothers, who left the game in the second half with an ankle injury, scored on a 7-yard run late in the first quarter. Meanwhile, the Lopers (1-6) managed just 59 total yards on 29 offensive plays in the first half.
UCA junior running back Willie Matthews added a 6-yard touchdown run at the 11:00 mark of the third quarter for a 17-0 margin and backup quarterback Ryan Howard hit senior tight end Chase Dixonn with an 8-yard touchdown pass with 4:50 left in the third period.
The Bears, coming off a 59-28 loss to Top 10 McNeese State last Saturday, added an 8-yard touchdown run by sophomore running back Blake Veasley in the opening minute of the fourth quarter to set the final.
Three quarterbacks completed passes for UCA, with Smothers finishing 22 of 34 for 177 yards. Howard was 4 of 8 for 47 yards and a touchdown, while sophomore Taylor Reed went 4 for 6 for 63 yards. The trio completed passes to 12 different receivers, led by freshman Jatavious Wilson with six catches for 54 yards. Sophomore Courtney Whitehead and redshirt freshman Desmond Smith caught five apiece.
UCA’s junior punter Jonathan Harrison averaged 41.5 yards on his six punts, while UNK punter Davis Brandel was forced to punt 10 times for a 41.7-yard average.
The Lopers finished with 169 yards of total offense as quarterbacks Luke McNitt and Sam Brauer combined to complete 11 of 25 passes for 81 yards, with one interception. UCA’s defense recorded 10 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, including three sacks, and sophomore safety Bobby Watkins grabbed his team-best second interception of the season.
Sophomore defensive end Jonathan Woodard forced a UNK fumble and junior linebacker Zach Bush recovered it. Sophomore linebacker D.J. Holland had his second straight strong outing at middle linebacker with 9 tackles, while freshman Tirell Wellmaker had 6 tackles (one for loss) in his first start at strong safety.
UCA, the defending co-conference champion, returns to Southland Conference action next week at Lamar, which lost 14-3 at No. 2 Sam Houston State on Saturday. Kickoff is 6 p.m. in Beaumont, Texas.