CONWAY — The No. 16/17 Southeastern Louisiana Lions ran for a season-high 343 yards and turned that into a 58-31 victory over the No. 24 University of Central Arkansas Bears on Saturday night at First Security Field at Estes Stadium.
Junior quarterback Bryan Bennett, a transfer from Oregon, led the charge with 142 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries. Bennett also completed 11 of 18 passes for 202 yards and a pair of touchdowns as SLU outscored UCA 34-14 in the second half.
The Lions broke open a 24-17 halftime lead by scoring 27 third-quarter points, with the help of two costly UCA turnovers and a blocked field goal. UCA junior quarterback Ryan Howard was intercepted on the Bears’ first drive of the second half and cornerback Harlan Miller returned it 48 yards for a touchdown.
On UCA’s next possession, Eddie Camara’s 34-yard field goal attempt was blocked and Marquis Hayes went 46 yards for a touchdown on SLU’s first play from scrimmage for a 38-17 lead. UCA’s next possession ended badly again as Howard was sacked and fumbled at the UCA 19. SLU scored four plays later on Bennett’s 4-yard run to push the lead to 45-17 midway through the third quarter.
UCA sophomore quarterback Taylor Reed hit junior receiver Dezmin Lewis with a 39-yard touchdown pass at the 7:11 mark of the period, but Bennett added another short touchdown run as the Lions closed out the quarter with a 51-24 advantage.
Reed threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to tight end Joe Carmical in the fourth quarter to make it 51-31, but Xavier Roberson scored from two yards out with 3:31 to play to set the final. Roberson, the nation’s leading kickoff returner, also took the opening kickoff of the game 90 yards for a touchdown and finished with 79 rushing yards on 14 carries.
After Roberson’s opening return, Howard threw a 31-yard touchdown pass to Damien Watts just three minutes later to tie the game at 7-7. Bennett hit tight end Jeremy Meyers for 53 yards and a score before Howard found Desmond Smith with a 10-yard TD pass, tying the game at 14-14 with 5:03 left in the first quarter.
Howard completed 23 of 41 passes for 262 yards and two touchdowns, why Reed was 4 of 5 for 48 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Reed led UCA’s ground game with 70 yards on nine carries. Smith and Willie Matthews caught six passes each for the Bears.
For the Bears, who have lost two consecutive games for the second time this season, senior linebacker Justin Heard finished with a game-high 15 tackles, his fourth straight double-figure tackle game. He had 11 solo tackles including one for loss.
UCA is on the road next week in Thibodaux, La., to face the Nicholls State Colonels. The Bears close out the season at home against Sam Houston State on Nov. 23.