Saturday proved a close match for the Bears as they managed a three-point win over the Nicholls State University Colonels on the road at the Colonels’ senior night at John L. Guidry Stadium.
Both teams showed solid tact throughout the game, with neither able to grab a substantial lead on the field.
Sophomore quarterback Hayden Hildebrand said he feels good with the end result before heading into the season’s final game.
“We just found a way to win. Nicholls came out ready to play, and we knew that was going to be a tough place to play,” he said. “We eventually got a lead and hung on to it just long enough to come out on top. Defense had some big stops, and we’re just happy to be in the position we’re in.”
After a slow start to the game, senior kicker Jace Denker opened scoring for UCA with a 30-yard field goal in the final seconds of the first quarter. Nicholls State was able to edge up on the Bears and take a 7-3 lead.
The Colonels attempted an onside kick that resulted in the Bears receiving the ball and sophomore outside linebacker Chris Chambers returning it to the Nicholls’ 22-yard line. The Bears then punched in a touchdown via junior wide receiver Jatavious Wilson, who pushed the score to 10-7 with 10:25 remaining in the half.
The Colonels tied the game with a 23-yard field goal with 4:05 left in the second quarter.
The Bears got another shot at a touchdown when UCA senior punter Matt Spencer’s punt was fumbled by the Colonels receiver and recovered by UCA sophomore outside linebacker George Odum on the Nicholls’ 27-yard line. On second down, Hildebrand hit senior tight end Justin Dickey from 27-yards out and gave the Bears a 17-10 advantage heading into halftime.
Central Arkansas returned the favor early in the second half when the Colonels recovered a fumble and scored in three plays, covering just nine yards and tying the game at 17-17.
The second half proved just as tight as the first. The Bears widened the gap and pushed the score to 34-17 with a rushing offensive by senior running back Blake Veasley.
Nicholls State capitalized on a UCA fumble that turned into a 51-yard touchdown pass that brought the score to 34-24 with 10:12 left in the game.
The Bears struggled to get an offensive rhythm afterward and allowed Nicholls to drive 65 yards for another touchdown at the 6:13 mark, setting the final score at 34-31.
After a back-and-forth of unsuccessful drives, the Bears ran out the clock. There was a sliver of time available for Nicholls State to take the game: They had time for two more plays.
The Colonels executed a complex play consisting of seven laterals, but the Bears thwarted the attempts. UCA was charged with a penalty on the play, which gave the Colonels one more chance to win.
Instead of trickery and complexity, the Colonels’ quarterback launched a Hail Mary that the Bears stopped six yards away from the end zone.
Despite the game’s closeness, Denker said he knew that the Bears were in control heading into the final seconds.
“The game definitely came down to the wire, that’s for sure,” he said. “The entire time I knew that our defense would hold out. I never doubted them, even during the crazy lateral play or the last Hail Mary play of the game.”
Veasley topped all rushers with 139-yards on 30 carries, his third 100 plus game in his past four games. Hildebrand went 12 of 18 for 109 yards and a touchdown. Denker went 2-2 from at least 30 yards. Junior safety Devin Spurlock had a career-high 14 tackles, two of those for loss. Senior safety Bobby Watkins had his fifth interception and senior defensive end Derek Floyd earned two sacks, keeping him in the top five in the SLC.
Senior defensive end Jonathan Woodard is now tied for first in career sacks with UCA Hall of Famer Mike Coffman (1979- 82) with 30. His sack yardage of 151-yards broke the school record held by Bart Reynolds (1992-95).
The Bears are now 7-1 in Southland Conference play. Their final regular season game will be against second-place Sam Houston State at 6 p.m. Nov. 21 at Estes Stadium.
This article appeared in the Nov. 18, 2015 print edition of The Echo.
image via ucasports.com