Central Arkansas gives SUU football first home loss

In Saturday’s United Athletic Conference matchup between the University of Central Arkansas and Southern Utah University, the Bears of Central Arkansas eked out a 29-27 win.

The Bears have improved to 3-2 on the season and 2-0 in conference play, while the Thunderbirds have fallen to 1-4 overall with a 0-1 conference record.

First half
Central Arkansas received to start the game and wasted no time taking the lead. They marched to the SUU 15-yard line where Jake Gaster made it a 3-0 game with a field goal. The first quarter went scoreless after that until just over a minute remained on the clock. Bear quarterback Will McElvain tossed a short pass to running back Kylin James, who kept going for an 18-yard touchdown. 

The Thunderbirds trailed 10-0 heading into the second quarter but managed to land the first punch of the 15 minutes. A Justin Miller pass to Tim Patrick allowed SUU to cut into the Bears’ lead.

Though it resulted in a touchdown, the drive, which started in the first quarter, saw just 15 yards of offense from the Thunderbirds. With a pass interference, offsides, and unnecessary roughness, Central Arkansas moved Southern Utah closer and closer to the endzone, setting up the score.

The Bears answered right back with a touchdown on their next possession, this time on a pass from McElvain to tight end Jordan Owens. After going up 17-7 and forcing SUU into a three-and-out, Gaster put another field goal through the uprights with seven minutes left on the clock. Thunderbird kicker Tyler Graham tried to answer back with a field goal of his own but narrowly missed the 35-yard attempt.

Second half
Southern Utah started the second half with a short and ineffective drive, as Alyas Vigil was forced to put after Miller was sacked on the SUU 30-yard line. The momentum shifted in their favor seven minutes into the quarter when George Ramirez recovered a Central Arkansas fumble and brought it into the red zone for SUU.

It took just three plays for Miller to connect with Zach Mitchell in the endzone for the Thunderbirds’ second touchdown of the night.

The Bears wanted more before the end of the quarter, though, and McElvain gave another short pass to James for his second touchdown of the night. After Gaster missed the extra-point attempt, the Bears were up 26-14.

A lightning delay between the third and fourth quarters put almost an hour-long pause to the game. No scoring took place until about 10 minutes left when Gaster added salt to SUU’s wounds with his third field goal of the game.

After back-to-back three-and-outs and with seven minutes left, the Thunderbirds woke up. Miller threw nothing but incomplete passes until it was fourth and 10 on the UCA 25-yard line and he found Patrick for a deep touchdown pass.

In the following drive, McElvain threw an interception to Southern Utah’s Cody Coleman. Already in Bear territory, Miller once again threw to Patrick and the duo connected for their third touchdown of the game, and SUU’s fourth. Miller then tried for two extra points but was unable to convert.

Central Arkansas was then held to another three-and-out, and possession was with Southern Utah with two minutes left and a 29-27 Bear lead. It was looking good for the Thunderbirds, but four consecutive incomplete passes and a turnover on downs put their hopes out of reach.

“Most teams don’t play well after lightning strikes. We came back and played really, really hard,” Thunderbird head coach DeLane Fitzgerald said after the game. “There’s nowhere else I’d rather be and no one else I’d rather be coaching than these young men. The fight and the passion they have for playing football keeps me going.”

Notable stats
— The Bears put together 471 yards of total offense, more than double the Thunderbirds’ 232, but their 14 penalties gave SUU 147 extra yards.
— Patrick Jr. recorded his first three touchdowns of the year and the first multi-touchdown game of his career.
— In four punts, Vigil averaged 55.3 yards in addition to kicking his longest career punt of 76 yards.
— Gaster’s three field goals were the most he has had in a single game.
— James, the Central Arkansas running back, led the game with 97 receiving yards, a career high for him.

Up next
SUU will continue conference play in Stephensville, Texas, where they will take on Tarleton State University. The game will be on Saturday, Oct. 7, at 6 p.m. MDT and can be streamed on ESPN+.

Author: Anden Garfield
Photographer: Anden Garfield