HAMMOND — Central Arkansas showed Southeastern Louisiana it is prepared to defend its Southland Conference title.
The Bears scored two quick touchdowns at the start of the second half to break open a close game and handed the Lions a 33-25 loss at Strawberry Stadium on Saturday before an announced crowd of 6,435.
The game was delayed for 1 hour, 17 minutes because of a lightning strike with 7:29 remaining. It was delayed again about 15 minutes when SLU offensive lineman Kyle Strickland was taken off the field on a stretcher with 1:39 left.
UCA (2-1, 1-0 in SLC) also denied the Lions (0-3, 0-1) their first victory under coach Frank Scelfo in SLU's home opener. Bears quarterback Breylin Smith passed for 329 yards and four touchdowns and forced three SLU turnovers. The Lions moved the ball well in spurts but were often undone by 16 penalties for 140 yards. UCA was in control most of the way. SLU scored a touchdown and two-point conversion with 1:24 left to narrow the final margin, but UCA recovered the ensuing onside kick and ran out the clock.
In addition to the penalties, SLU lost quarterback Lorenzo Nunez to a knee injury and leading tackler Tamarcus Russell was flagged for targeting and ejected, both in the second quarter. Nunez alternates with Chason Virgil; without him the Lions couldn’t run their read-option offense.
The Lions ended the first half on a positive note when Jonathan Tatum kicked a 41-yard field goal on the final play to cut their deficit to 13-10, set up by a 30-yard completion from Virgil to Jake Ingraffia. But UCA answered with two touchdowns in the first four minutes of the third quarter to stretch the lead to 27-10.
The Bears went 80 yards on their first possession, capped by Carlos Blackman’s 7-yard run. Smith got a big chunk of the yardage with a 53-yard pass to Brandon Myers to the SLU 20-yard line.
On the first play of SLU’s ensuing series, Darren Johnson couldn’t handle the handoff from Virgil and Chris Terrell recovered for the Bears at the SLU 25. Three plays later, Smith connected with Jakari Dillard over the middle on a 15-yard TD pass.
SLU battled back. Virgil, who completed 26 of 51 for 386 yards and a touchdown, moved his team 52 yards for a TD on a 2-yard run by Marcus Cooper with 12 seconds left in the third quarter.
UCA answered two plays later. Smith burned the Lions on a blitz, lofting a 61-yard scoring pass to Brandon Myers, who caught four passes for 170 yards and two scores. Myers also caught a 43-yard TD pass in the second quarter and Cedric Battle had a 40-yard TD catch with 49 seconds left in the first half.
The Lions started the game with a sharp drive, going 75 yards in 11 plays on their opening possession. Johnson capped the drive with a 2-yard scoring run but it was kept alive by Virgil’s 16-yard scramble on fourth-and-8 at the 29. SLU also benefitted from an unsportsmanlike conduct call against UCA’s Cardell Best on a third-and-14 incompletion.