UCA’s football team turned out a 35-17 win on the road against the Lamar University Cardinals on Oct. 24 with an impressive performance from senior running back Blake Veasley and the Bears’ defense.
Veasley carried a heavy load on Saturday night after an injury took sophomore running back Dominique Thomas out the previous weekend. Veasley proved to be a knight in shining armor by carrying the offense through a long night in rough weather.
With a record-breaking weekend, Veasley snatched the crown from UCA Sports Hall-of-Famer Vaughn Edwards with 49 carries for 292 rushing yards. Edwards held those marks with 42 carries in 1980 and 248 yards in 1978. Adding on to that, Veasley scooped up four touchdowns and out-ran the leading rusher in the nation and Southland Conference single-game record holder, Lamar’s Kade Harrington, by 49 yards.
The Bears got on the board with a 1-yard run with 4:37 left in the first quarter, finishing an 11-play, 85-yard drive. Junior tight end Scott Matiaha punched in the 2-point conversion for an 8-0 lead. The Bears tallied up another touchdown with just 50 seconds left in the quarter, bringing the score to 15-0.
The Cardinals made their way back midway through the second quarter with a 25-yard field goal.
As the half came to a close, Denker knocked in another two field goals to bring the Bears’ lead to 21-3 at the break.
Veasley finished the first half with 138 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns, while senior kicker Jace Denker added a pair of 21-yard field goals and leveled out the half with a 21-3 halftime lead.
Coming out hard early in the first half proved pivotal for the Bears. The defensive pressure mixed with the immovable offensive line proved too much for the Cardinals.
Veasley said the whole team played outstanding.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game,” he said. “We knew the weather was going to play a factor. [We] got the running game started earlier, and we were able to have a lot of success.”
Veasley opened up the scoring for UCA in the third quarter with a 56-yard run to bring the score to 28-3.
Lamar’s Harrington scored twice for the Cardinals on a couple of big open-field runs to cut the deficit to 28-17. Despite an impressive performance from Harrington, who ended the game with 24 carries for 243 yards, the Cardinals were unable to stop the Bears’ running game. Veasley gave the killing blow to the Cardinals with his fourth touchdown of the night, a 19-yarder, early in the fourth quarter.
Veasley said his success was not without the support of his offensive line.
“It was a great night,” he said. “The offensive line played lights-out all night and was able to open up some holes and I was able to capitalize on them.”
UCA’s defense stomped out the Cardinals’ passing game with a season-high five interceptions, four coming in the second half. UCA led time of possession in the second half with 22:03, compared to the Cardinals’ 7:57.
The Bears have had to navigate through many injuries this season, both offensively and defensively. Junior cornerback Tyler Williams took the challenge by starting in place of injured senior Dillion Winfrey. Williams picked off two passes on the night. Sophomore cornerback Tremon Smith grabbed his SLC-leading fourth interception.
Senior and junior defensive backs Bobby Watkins and Devin Spurlock added the other two interceptions for UCA. Senior linebacker Ricky Wyatt had eight tackles, including 2.5 for loss, while Smith added eight tackles.
UCA turned out a season-high 313 rushing yards with 467 yards of total offense. Sophomore quarterback Hayden Hildebrand came out strong despite shoulder complications and completed 11 of 17 passes for 154 yards. Junior wide receiver Desmond Smith caught 4 passes for 77 yards.
The Bears return home Oct. 31 for their Homecoming match against the Southeastern Louisiana Lions. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at Estes Stadium.
This article originally appeared in the Oct. 28, 2015 print edition of The Echo.
image via Josh Goff/UCA Athletics