A stout defensive effort and a standout passing performance by Wynrick Smothers lifted No. 13 Central Arkansas to a 17-13 victory over Missouri State Saturday evening at Plaster Field. Smothers threw for a pair of first-half touchdowns to give the visiting Bears (2-2) the lead, and the UCA defense held MSU scoreless over the final 39 minutes of the game to seal the outcome.
Smothers, who matched a school record by completing 14 straight passes to start the game, finished the night 35-of-46 for 280 yards through the air. The Bears’ junior quarterback hooked up with Dezmin Lewis on a 75-yard touchdown strike in the opening quarter, then put UCA up for good with an eight-yard scoring pass to Chase Dixon late in the second period.
From there, the UCA defense put the clamps on Missouri State, which dropped its fourth-consecutive decision to start the season and its third by six points or less. The Bears held MSU to 70 second-half yards and just 289 for the game, sealing the win by thwarting a late Missouri State drive with a fourth-down stop from the UCA 12 with 2:42 to play.
Missouri State junior quarterback Kierra Harris led the Bears’ attack with 183 yards passing on 18-of-38 passing, including MSU’s lone touchdown of the night on an eight-yard completion to Dorian Buford in the opening quarter.
The Missouri State defense held UCA to just 149 yards of total offense in the second half. UCA, which entered the contest averaging 421 yards and 22 first downs per outing, managed just 338 total yards and 13 first downs for the night.
Lewis hauled in eight catches from Smothers for a game-high 128 receiving yards, while Matthew Hornbuckle turned in a team-high eight stops and Derek Floyd logged 2.5 tackles for losses — including 1.5 sacks — for the UCA defense.
UCA seized control of the game late in the second period on Smothers’ second touchdown pass of the evening that put the Bears on top for good. Smothers completed 21-of-23 first-half pass attempts for 173 yards in the first half, including his pivotal toss to Dixon, who made a leaping grab in the end zone with 2:30 left in the half to account for the final scoring of the night.
Both defenses rose to the occasion in the second half, as UCA limited Missouri State to just 17 total yards of offense and one first down in the third period. MSU’s defense came up big as well, as freshman Dylan Cole picked off a Smothers’ pass near midfield with 7:33 left on the clock.
On the ensuing drive, Harris guided MSU into scoring position with six straight completions, the last of which — an 11-yard strike to Buford on 4th and 2 at the UCA 14 — set up the Bears with a 1st-and-goal at the UCA 3 yard line.
But a Floyd sack on second down pushed MSU back to the 12, and Ryan Boatright couldn’t corral Harris’ third-down pass near the goal line to bring up four down once again. This time, Harris’ pass fell short of a diving Eric Christophel in the end zone, ending the 14-play drive and dimming the Bears’ hopes for an upset.
Smothers closed the door once and for all with a 12-yard completion to Lewis on 3rd and 8, and the Bears ran out the clock to send MSU to its 12th straight non-conference loss since September 2010.
The end of the contest typified a memorable night for Smothers, who rallied UCA from a pair of early deficits in the opening stanza. Missouri State delivered the initial scoring blow in the game by engineering its longest drive of the season to take an early 6-0 lead. Harris ripped off a 12-yard run and completed 5-of-6 passes for 58 yards on the series, including an eight-yard strike to Buford to finish off the five-minute, 37-second drive.
Following a missed MSU extra-point attempt, the visitors would need just 43 seconds to respond, as Lewis got by the Missouri State secondary and hauled in a Smothers pass for a 75-yard touchdown reception and a 7-6 UCA advantage.
A 27-yard Jace Denker field goal extended the Bears’ lead after a Missouri State fumble set up UCA deep in MSU territory early in the second period. MSU responded with its second long scoring drive of the night, using a Bears’ season-long rush of 29 yards by Mikael Cooper-Falls to set up a Vernon Scott three-yard plunge that handed the home club a 13-10 edge at the 9:18 mark.
Christophel grabbed a team-high six receptions for 42 yards, while Buford caught four passes for 80 yards to lead MSU’s offense. On the defensive side, Cole and Caleb Schaffitzel shared game-high honors with 10 tackles, and Nick Canavan registered nine stops and MSU’s lone sack of the evening.
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