The UCA Bears football team avoided its first losing season since 2009 by beating conference foe, the Nicholls State Colonels, 17-10 on Saturday.
The Bears (6-5, 3-3 SLC) entered the game against the Colonels (4-7, 1-5 SLC) unranked for the first time this season after losing at home against the Southeastern Louisiana Lions last week.
The Colonels jumped to an early lead in the first quarter from a 40-yard field goal by senior kicker Andrew Dolan to put Nicholls State up 3-0. The drive covered 27 yards on seven plays.
The Bears came back on their next possession to score a touchdown on a seven-yard pass from junior quarterback Ryan Howard to junior wide receiver Clay Murphy.
This was Murphy’s first touchdown catch of his career.
UCA drove 46 yards in 10 plays for the score.
Sophomore quarterback Taylor Reed split snaps on the drive with Howard.
The Colonels took over the ball at their own 28-yard line.
Nicholls State relied on sophomore quarterback Tuskani Figaro, who completed one pass for 22 yards and ran for 14 yards on three carries.
He fumbled on the last play of the drive and UCA recovered the ball.
The fumble was forced by freshman defensive end Bailey McIver.
Senior defensive back Jestin Love said McIver helped turn the tide for the team.
“Defense received a big performance out of McIver,” he said. “He had a big turnover in the game that gave us momentum.”
UCA took over at Nicholls State’s 13-yard line but was unable to do anything with the ball and was forced to punt.
The teams were scoreless for the rest of the quarter to leave the score at 7-3.
The Colonels had control of the ball to start the second quarter and moved the ball 28 yards.
Dolan lined up for a 33-yard field goal but missed wide right.
The Bears took over at their own 20-yard line and Reed completed a 51-yard pass to freshman wide receiver Desmond Smith.
Reed completed a 14-yard pass to sophomore Justin Burdette.
Junior running back Willie Matthews ran for 11 yards on four carries.
The drive ended with a 28-yard field goal by junior kicker Eddie Camara.
The field goal brought the score to 10-3 in UCA’s favor.
On UCA’s next possession, Camara missed wide left on a 36-yard field goal.
The Bears’ defense was able to stop the Nicholls State offense and forced them to punt.
UCA’s offense took over at its own 23-yard line.
The Bears would score on a 48-yard pass from Howard to Smith to go ahead of the Colonels 17-3.
This would be the score heading into halftime.
Both defenses stepped up and shut down the opposing offenses until the Colonels’ last possession of the game.
Nicholls State drove 89 yards on 14 plays to score a touchdown on an 11-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Beaux Herbert to senior wide receiver Erik Buchanan.
The touchdown brought the score to 17-10.
The Colonels attempted an onside kick after the touchdown but it sailed out of bounds allowing the Bears to take over on the Nicholls 45-yard line.
UCA lined up in victory formation and downed the ball to run out the clock and gained the victory.
The Bears generated 365 yards of total offense while the Colonels had 324 yards.
Matthews led the rushing attack for the Bears with 78 yards on 19 carries.
Howard completed 17 of 27 attempted passes for 150 yards and two touchdowns.
Reed completed eight of 11 passes for 60 yards. He also ran 31 yards on 12 carries.
Smith had a breakout game as he caught seven passes for 140 yards and one touchdown.
Senior linebacker Justin Heard led the Bears defense with 10 tackles. Two tackles were for a loss.
Both teams had three sacks in the game.
The sacks caused the Bears to 18 lose yards, while the Colonels lost eight yards.
Herbert led the passing attack for the Colonels, completing 13 of 21 passes for 124 yards and one touchdown.
Figaro completed 10 of 15 attempted passes for 60 yards.
The Bears return to the stripes for the final game of the season against the Sam Houston State University Bearkats at 3 p.m. Saturday.
The seniors on the team will be honored at halftime.
UCA football coach Clint Conque said the team has a tough test to finish the season.
“We still have one really good football team left in Sam Houston State and they have an explosive offense,” he said.
The Bearkats are ranked ninth in the Football Championship Subsivision.
They dropped five spots since losing to the conference — leading Southeastern Louisiana Lions last week, 34-21.
Sam Houston State ranks second in the Southland Conference in scoring with 42.3 points per game.
UCA ranks sixth in the conference by scoring 31.7 points per game.
The Bearkats are second in defense in the conference by allowing opponents to score 26.2.
The Bears are third by allowing 26.8 points.
Love said UCA will have to be prepared for the Sam Houston State offense.
“Anytime we play Sam Houston, we have to play our most disciplined game of the season giving their triple option play,” he said.
If UCA get wins, they will tie Sam Houston State for third place in the conference.
The game will be televised on Southland TV.