CONWAY, Ark. – No. 11-ranked Central Arkansas (2-1) scored a pair of touchdowns in the opening minute of the fourth quarter to overcome a double-figure lead by Missouri State and secure a 27-20 victory over the maroon Bears in nip-and-tuck game here Saturday.
Missouri State (1-2) was stopped on fourth down twice in the final 3:28 of the game, first at the UCA seven-yard line and later at the 28 before the 11th-ranked home squad was able to seal the win.
With MSU holding a 20-13 lead heading into the fourth quarter, quarterback Jaden Johnson coughed up a fumble on the first play of the final period that UCA’s Dre Matthews scooped up and returned 30 yards for a touchdown.
On the ensuing series, Missouri State was stopped on three straight plays to force a punt. Grant Burkett’s 43-yard kick was fielded by Central Arkansas’ Tyler Hudson at the UCA 43, and he then got two key blocks to spring him free for the go-ahead touchdown.
MSU would punt on its next two possessions before ending the game with drives halted on fourth down its last two series.
Johnson finished 24-of-44 for 249 yards and an interception to lead Missouri State. Kevon Latulas was also key for the Bears offense, carrying 12 times for a team-high 63 yards and catching 6 passes for 83 yards. Latulas also scooped up a blocked punt for the Bears in the first half for a touchdown, Missouri State’s first such blocked punt TD since Rickey Nichols did so on Oct. 14, 2017.
“We were in a position to win the game,” said MSU head coach Bobby Petrino. “With the punt return and the fumble late in the game, it’s hard to overcome those. They stopped us twice on fourth down late in the game which was also big.
“I thought our defense did a nice job defending their wide receivers and a great quarterback. They were a playoff time last year, and they’re very experienced.”
UCA QB Breylin Smith finished 9-of-24 for 79 yards and an interception. The purple Bears had just 10 first downs on the game and just 177 total yards.
Missouri State committed three first-half turnovers, but overcame the early mishaps to take a 17-7 lead into the intermission.
The visitors capitalized on back-to-back UCA punts late in the opening stanza and put the first points of the game on the board at the 12:04 mark when Jose Pizano capped an 11-play, 52-yard drive with a 47-yard field goal to give Missouri State the early advantage.
On UCA’s ensuing possession, MSU forced the home squad into a third straight punt, but this time Latulas broke through the protection and blocked the Seren Hughes-Ford punt. Latulas picked up the ball at the 16 and returned it into the endzone to put Missouri State ahead 10-0 at the 10:45 mark of the second.
Later in the second, MSU coughed up its second fumble of the half to set up a short field for UCA. Two plays later, Kierr Crosley punched it in from four yards out to make it 10-7.
But Missouri State answered the bell and engineered a 10-play, 65-yard drive before the intermission. Johnson connected with Latulas on a 29-yard pass on the first play of the drive to get the ball into UCA territory. From there, MSU’s freshman quarterback threw a bullet that Cairo Payne snagged for a third-down conversion to the UCA 14.
Johnson took over from there, carrying twice to get the ball to the three before Keshun Parker punched it in for the score to give Missouri State a 17-7 lead at the midway point.
Missouri State finished with 20 first downs and 291 yards of total offense.
The Bears were whistled for 14 penalties for 143 yards and committed four turnovers on a night when Petrino’s squad seemed otherwise in control on both sides of the ball.
Tylar Wiltz once again led Missouri State’s defense with 11 total tackles.
The Bears and UCA will square off again on Saturday, Oct. 17 at Robert W. Plaster Stadium in Springfield. The rematch will kick at 7 p.m., in the third and final game on the fall slate for Missouri State.