CONWAY — The No. 20 University of Central Arkansas Bears celebrated Homecoming on Saturday night by rolling up 38 points in the third quarter en route to a 66-31 victory over the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks in front of a crowd of 10,827 at First Security Field at Estes Stadium.
The Bears (5-3, 2-1), who led 21-10 at halftime, scored more points over the next 15 minutes of action than the Lumberjacks (3-5, 1-2) did in the entire game, quickly pushing their lead to 59-24 with a quarter left to play. The Bears and Lumberjacks combined for nine scoring drives of less than a minute, with UCA getting seven of them.
The Bears had an 85-yard kickoff return by freshman Jatavious Wilson to open the third quarter, and a 98-yard interception return by junior Marvin Mitchell late in the period. After kicker Jace Denker ended the third period barrage with a 29-yard field goal, freshman running back Kelton Warren, in just his second career game, broke off an 81-yard touchdown run for a 66-24 UCA lead midway through the fourth quarter.
Junior quarterback Ryan Howard, in just his second career start in as many weeks, completed 18 of 30 passes for a career-high 403 yards and four touchdowns. He threw touchdown passes of 2 yards to sophomore Courtney Whitehead, 45 and 34 yards to junior Dezmin Lewis and 64 yards to freshman Jose Moore, his first career touchdown in his second game. Howard earned the L.B. Jackman Award as the Most Valuable Player of the Homecoming game, but the award could have gone to a host of other Bears just as easily.
The Lumberjacks, featuring the top-ranked offense in the Southland Conference, finished with 681 yards on 102 total plays but the Bears were better at finding the end zone. UCA had the exact same total yardage but averaged 9.5 yards per play, including 20.3 per pass completion. The 66 points allowed by SFA were the most for the ‘Jacks since TCU scored 66 in 2008, and the most by an FCS opponent since Montana scored 70 in 1995.
SFA, which has lost 10 consecutive road games, opened the scoring with a 39-yard field goal midway through the first quarter but UCA answered with Whitehead’s touchdown reception and a 12-yard rushing touchdown by backup quarterback Taylor Reed, who completed 4 of 5 passes for a touchdown and added 45 rushing yards.
SFA wide receiver Tyler Boyd threw a 73-yard touchdown pass to D.J. Ward to get the ‘Jacks within 14-10 early in the second quarter. Lewis then pulled in his first touchdown pass from Howard to give the Bears a 21-10 halftime advantage.
An extended halftime for homecoming festivities did little to slow the Bears as Wilson took the second-half kickoff 85 yards for his second return for a score this season. That started the Bears on their way to a quarter in which they outscored the ‘Jacks 38-14 and piled up 215 yards of offense. UCA scored on six consecutive possessions, with three of the scores in a span of 2:25. The three straight touchdowns came at 6:47, 5:22 and 4:22 on the clock.
UCA’s 10 scoring drives used a combined 33 plays. The nine touchdowns was the most since UCA had 10 last season against Bacone College.
Lewis, who has been nursing an ankle sprain, caught five passes for a career-high 160 yards and two touchdowns, while Warren finished with 106 yards rushing, UCA’s first 100-yard rusher of the season. The Bears had a season-high 235 rushing yards as Wilson added 80 yards on just one carry in the fourth quarter and finished with a school-record 314 all-purpose yards, breaking the mark set by Tyree Davis (304) in 1993.
Senior linebacker Justin Heard led the UCA defense with a career-high 15 tackles, while sophomore Dillion Winfrey added 10. Junior noseguard T.J. Randall had four tackles, including two for loss and a 16-yard sack. Mitchell and sophomore Darius Reed recorded interceptions for the Bears, who also broke up eight passes.
SFA quarterback Brady Attaway completed 41 of 63 passes for 442 yards and two touchdowns. Tyler Boyd caught 10 passes for 91 yards and a pair of scores.
UCA returns to the road to face Northwestern State next Saturday in SLC action in Natchitoches. Game time is 7 p.m. on ESPN3.