|Updated: 11/28/2011 8:43 am
||Published: 11/28/2011 8:41 am
COOKEVILLE, TN - The University of Central Arkansas Bears didn’t look like a team that had been off for two weeks in the first round of the FCS Playoffs on Saturday.
The Bears (9-3) were sharp on offense and stingy on defense in taking a 34-14 victory over the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles on the road at Tucker Stadium. The victory moves the Bears into the second round of the playoffs against the Montana Grizzlies. The Golden Eagles, co-champions of the Ohio Valley Conference, finished 7-4.
UCA’s offense rolled up 439 yards of offense, with senior quarterback Nathan Dick completing an efficient 23 of 29 passes for 319 yards and two touchdowns. Dick and junior running back Terence Bobo added 1-yard rushing touchdowns and freshman Eddie Camara had field goals of 25 and 35 yards as the Bears won their eighth consecutive game after a 1-3 start to the season.
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 head coach Clint Conque, in his 12th season at UCA. "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.
"And I don’t know if Nathan Dick has played a better game in his career. I don’t want to say flawless, but it was absolutely spectacular. We gave him space with the offensive line and our protection, we didn’t have any dropped balls. 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. UCA struck first 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-2 pass to Dominique Croom.
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. We were able to run the ball a little bit and I thought Nathan Dick had a spectacular game tonight. We made some tough catches, we didn’t have any dropped balls and we were able to keep him upright and clean.
"Outside of the turnover, I thought we played a really crisp and clean game offensively. I thought we prepared very well. It’s all about the preparation. At this level, it’s all about momentum. It’s such a big part of football at this level. And once you get on a roll, that seems to take hold.
"We’ve won eight in a row now and there is a lot of momentum and a lot of encouraging things going on in our locker room right now with our football team. And that’s exciting to see."
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 6. They 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 7-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.
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."