College Sports Journal
COOKEVILLE, TN. — It may have been the first Division I Football postseason game for Central Arkansas, but the Bears looked anything like newcomers in a 34-14 thrashing of Tennessee Tech Saturday at Tucker Stadium.
Led by the play of quarterback Nathan Dick on offense and a stingy defense, UCA rolled to an easy victory in the first round of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
Dick completed 23-of-29 passes for 319 yards and two touchdowns on a day where the Bears churned out 439 yards of total offense.
It was the eighth consecutive victory for Central Arkansas, which made the field as an at-large team after finishing second in the Southland Conference.
The Bears had started the year with a 1-3 record, but will get a chance to continue their turnaround next Saturday at No. 4-seeded Montana.
Tennessee Tech, the co-champions with Eastern Kentucky and Jacksonville State in the Ohio Valley Conference and the winner of the OVC auto bid, finished the season with a 7-4 record.
UCA didn’t look like a team that had been off for two weeks on Saturday.
Dick and junior running back Terence Bobo contributed one-yard rushing touchdowns and freshman Eddie Camara had field goals of 25 and 35 yards.
Defensively, UCA held Tech’s 1,000-yard rusher Dontey Gay to just 36 yards rushing on 10 carries.
The Golden Eagles finished with 349 total yards of offense, with 291 through the air as the Bears completely took away the running game.
“I’m very pleased with how we played,” said UCA coach Clint Conque. “We won the turnover battle, we won the field position battle. We bent a little bit but we made plays when we had to defensively.”
UCA lost one fumble, but had two take-aways.
“I don’t know if Nathan Dick has played a better game in his career,” Conque said. “I don’t want to say flawless, but it was absolutely spectacular.”
Dick’s strong performance set the tone for the Bears.
“We gave him space with the offensive line and our protection, we didn’t have any dropped balls,” Conque explained. “We had guys make some really nice catches. I thought he threw the ball extremely well, considering the wind and the elements.”
The Bears grabbed a 17-7 halftime lead behind Dick’s passing and solid defense.
Early on, Watson Brown, the head coach of the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles, tried to grab the early momentum from Central Arkansas.
With a 4th-and-2 at the Bear 23 yard line and the wind at his back, Brown brought his offensive unit with three tight ends out on the field, trying to make it look like he was drawing their defense offsides.
As quarterback Tre Lamb lifted his head to pass, he realized he didn’t fool noseguard Justin Williams at all, who was bearing down on him – and his quickly-heaved toss to tight end William Stevens was far off the mark.
From there, Central Arkansas quarterback Nathan Dick and running back Terence Bobo would make sure momentum wore purple, as they’d take advantage of that early swing with a 17-play, 77-yard drive, capped by a 1-yard run up the middle by Bobo with 8:26 left in the first quarter. On the drive, Dick completed 8-of-9 passes, including a key fourth-and-two pass to Dominique Croom.
“It’s all about experience. We hadn’t been in the playoffs,” Tech Coach Watson Brown said. “It’s a different world, especially when you’ve had an unbelievable finish where you were fighting for a championship and you have to beat an archrival (Austin Peay) to get it.”
The Bears forced a fumble on the ensuing kickoff and freshman Willie Matthews recovered at the Tech 25. Camara made it a 10-0 lead with a 25-yard field goal on the first play of the second quarter.
The Golden Eagles then turned in their own long scoring drive, going 80 yards in 14 plays, with Trey Lamb passing 11 yards to Cody Matthews for the touchdown with 8:40 left in the second period.
The teams traded punts before UCA found the end zone again with a 1-yard keeper by Dick. Camara’s extra-point made it 17-7 with 1:55 left in the half.
Dick finished 15-of-20 for 175 yards in the first half as the Bears rolled up 234 yards of offense.
“I thought we played with a little extra gear today,’ said Conque. “I think the open week probably helped us be a little fresher.”
The fact that UCA was able to balance its passing attack with a solid rushing component also helped.
“We were able to run the ball a little bit,” said Conque. “We made some tough catches, we didn’t have any dropped balls and we were able to keep him upright and clean.”
Camara opened the second half with a 35-yard field goal to push UCA’s lead to 20-7 with 7:37 left in the third quarter. Dick then hit a wide-open Grandy down the left sideline with a 42-yard touchdown pass to put the game out of reach at 27-7 with 4:50 left in the third quarter.
On the kickoff, the Golden Eagles fumbled it, then were called for a holding penalty, pushing them back to the six.
Tech managed to turn it into a 94-yard scoring drive over 14 plays to close the gap to 27-14 with 13:13 left in the game.
UCA answered quickly with a seven-play, 87-yard scoring drive, capped by Dick’s 30-yard pass over the middle to redshirt freshman tight end Thomas Hart for a 34-14 lead.
The Bears’ defense recorded nine lost-yardage plays, headed by senior linebacker Frank Newsome who had 2.5 tackles for loss and senior defensive end Jermayne Lett who had two more. Safety Jerrel McKnight closed the game with an interception in the final minute.
“Their (defensive) front is what really impressed me,” Watson Brown said after the game. “They just dominated us. We had rushed for over 200 yards a game, and we couldn’t get back to the line of scrimmage. Impressive. I will give them the credit more than saying anything about our guys. They dominated us, and when the defensive line dominates like that… We had some pass rush issues all year — and we had it again today — and until today, we hadn’t been dominated like that.”
“It was difficult trying to catch up because of the defensive line and the pass rush,” Tech quarterback Tre Lamb said after the game. “We got into an all-out pass mode because we couldn’t run the ball. They were just too good up front. That’s what they’re designed around. They’re designed to get you behind and that’s when their defense is at their best. They can sit back and depend on those four guys up front to dominate the game. That’s what they did against us.”
UCA, runnerup in the Southland Conference with a 6-1 record, was making its first FCS playoff appearance in just its second year of eligibility.
“It’s time now to go represent our conference and our school against one of the top teams in the nation at one of the toughest places to play in the nation,” Conque said. “It’s a place that’s been very difficult to win, but we’re going to enjoy this one for 24 hours then turn our attention to Montana. We’re very pleased to be able to continue our season.”