By Matthew Bonnette
Special to College Sports Journal
Editor’s Note: This story is courtesy of McNeese State athletics
CONWAY, AR. — Wallace Scott’s 45-yard fumble recovery 10 seconds into the fourth quarter sparked a 21-point frame and helped ignite 9th-ranked McNeese to a come-from-behind 28-13 win over Central Arkansas here Saturday night to take sole command of first place in the Southland Conference standings.
The win moved the Cowboys to 6-0 on the season and 5-0 in league play while UCA fell to 3-3 and 3-1 in the conference.
Trailing 13-7 to start the fourth quarter and with UCA facing a second-and-9 at its own 47, Bear center Alec Willis snapped the ball a bit early to quarterback Hayden Hildebrand who was in shotgun formation, and with a receiver in motion, the early snap hit the receiver and Scott was there to scoop it up and scamper 45 yards for the score and to give McNeese a 14-13 lead.
McNeese’s defense, which ranked No. 1 in the nation in scoring and total defense entering the game, allowed just 19 yards in the fourth quarter, forced three turnovers, a punt, and a turnover on downs in the Bears’ five possessions for the quarter.
“I saw the speed (in motion) and when I saw that, we rotated,” said Scott. “And I guess they mistimed their snap. I think it was Jermaine (Antoine) and Brent (Spikes) and their No. 4 (Jatavious Wilson) and they just kind of dove at it and I picked it up and ran with it.”
That was McNeese’s third defensive touchdown of the season and second by Wallace who had a 97-yard fumble return at Stephen F. Austin earlier in the season.
“I thought defense and special teams were really good,” said head coach Matt Viator who notched his 74th career win to move ahead of Louisiana Tech’s Maxie Lambright for fourth on the Southland Conference all-time career wins list. “UCA had a couple of drives in the third quarter but other than that the defense played really good.”
The play of the defense made up for an offensive attack that was kept in check for much of the game due in part to UCA’s defense.
The Cowboys finished with a season-low 160 yards of offense – 100 rushing and 60 passing. But when it was needed, the offense came answered, especially running back Ryan Ross who finished with 100 yards rushing on 14 carries.
His 38-yard burst on the team’s first play in the third quarter set up a 4-yard touchdown run by quarterback Daniel Sams that put the Cowboys on the board with 12:22 to play in the quarter and giving them a 7-3 lead.
UCA answered with a 12 play, 78 yard drive that ended with a 1-yard touchdown run on fourth down by Dominique Thomas to put the Bears back on top 10-7.
The Bears tacked on three more points on a Jace Denker 44-yard field goal with 3:13 to play in the third to make it 13-7. A second consecutive 3-and-out series for McNeese gave the Bears the ball back late in the third and when the clock changed to the fourth quarter, that’s when Scott and the defense awoke to start the comeback.
After Scott’s touchdown, the Bears were forced into a 3-and-out. Ross took over for the Cowboys on the next possession, carrying the ball four times for 26 yards, including a 10-yard touchdown run with 9:47 to play to make it 21-13. But none of that would’ve been possible if it hadn’t been for Sams who calmly found a wide open Zach Hetrick at the 10-yard line for a 17-yard gain on a fourth-and-4 play.
On UCA’s next possession, Josh Washington pasted backup QB Kirk Baugh with a blindside sack and forcing a fumble in the process which was recovered by Bo Brown at the Bears’ 16. Six plays later, Sams scored his second rushing TD of the game to make it 28-13 with 6:56 to play.
McNeese sealed the win with just over two minutes to play when Jake Grode intercepted a Hildebrand pass at the Cowboys’ 21-yard line that was batted in the air off the pass by Brandon Blackwell.
UCA scored the game’s first points on a 42-yard field goal by Denker with 3:13 to play in the first half as the two teams went into the break with no touchdowns.
Both teams had trouble getting the offenses going in the first half as the two combined for 13 punts – seven by McNeese and six UCA. McNeese had 47 total offensive yards in the first half while UCA managed to scurry up 118.
For the game, the Bears finished with 313 total yards but just 45 rushing on 35 carries for an average of 1.3 yards per carry. Hildebrand completed 29 of 51 passes for 261 yards and had one picked off while Thomas led the team in rushing with 64 yards on 19 carries and a score.
McNeese punter Jean Breaux did a great job of flipping the field the entire game. He punted 10 times for a 45.0 average, had three downed inside the 20, and bombed a long of 70 yards early in the second quarter that moved the ball from the McNeese 29 to the UCA 1.
The Cowboys will return home next Saturday when they host Northwestern State for homecoming.
WORTH NOTING: McNeese retains possession of the Red Beans and Rice Bowl trophy, which is a cast iron pot… With his 100 yards rushing, Ryan Ross has now surpassed 1,000 in his career and is the 36th player in school history to reach the milestone… UCA’s 10 points in the third quarter were the first points surrendered by the Cowboys in that quarter on the season… The Cowboys entered the game allowing just 19 yards rushing per game in the second half this season. They gave up 36 on Saturday but just 9 in the first half.