With both teams hungry for their first wins of the season, a balanced Central Arkansas team dominated Northwestern State in a 49-21 Bears’ win Saturday at Turpin Stadium.
The Bears (1-2, 1-0 Southland Conference) scored the first 28 points of the game and never led by fewer than 21 points after that.
The Demons (0-4, 0-2 SLC) allowed more than 500 offensive yards for the third consecutive game as the Bears racked up 521 yards. UCA rushed for 267 and passed for 254 yards. Sophomore quarterback Hayden Hildebrand, who replaced injured starter Taylor Reed late in the first quarter, threw for 201 yards on 12-of-16 passing with three touchdowns.
“The guys that we rely on to make plays for us, we couldn’t quite make them tonight,” said NSU coach Jay Thomas. “UCA deserves a lot of credit coming off a bye week, and they got rolling early.
“We needed to win this one, but we didn’t want to make this game bigger than it was with a bunch of young guys. We’re not catching the breaks right now, but we’re going to keep fighting.”
The disappointing loss overshadowed a record-breaking individual effort from NSU senior receiver Ed Eagan.
Eagan, who entered the game tied with Derrick Doyle for NSU’s career receptions record at 126, caught 10 passes for 108 yards and two touchdowns. Eagan nudged his career mark to 136 receptions despite being in only his third season as a receiver.
Eagan also set the Southland Conference record for career kick returns with 108. He moved into second place in the conference’s career kick return yardage with 2,449 yards, trailing Texas State’s Karrington Bush by 79 yards. Eagan returned six kicks for 115 yards Saturday.
But Eagan, who dropped multiple passes, knows NSU’s offense overall must improve.
“It’s an honor to hold (NSU’s career receptions) mark, and I’m thankful for it,” said Eagan, who broke the record on NSU’s first offensive play. “I wasn’t really thinking about it tonight.
“I’ve got to execute better, and those dropped balls are nobody’s fault but mine. I do feel like I need to lead this team even though we have other playmakers around me. I have to execute better.”
NSU’s two conference losses have come at home, and the Demons will attempt to scratch the win column Saturday at Incarnate Word on Saturday in a 2 p.m. kickoff.
Sophomore quarterback J.D. Almond played the entire game Saturday against Central Arkansas, throwing for 275 yards and two touchdowns on 19-of-33 passing.
“I’m very comfortable and confident, and a lot of that has to do with the great group of guys I have around me,” Almond said. “It felt good to play the whole game, and you have to build off every snap.
“I have a lot of faith in our guys, and we’re not going to lay down.”
UCA scored the first 28 points of the game before NSU finally caught traction late in the second quarter.
After a Matt Cummins 47-yard field goal capped UCA’s first drive, UCA cashed in a touchdown on a fumble by Almond. Reed found receiver Desmond Smith for a 16-yard pass, and a 2-point conversion by Scott Matiaha put UCA up 11-0.
The Bears tacked on two Blake Veasley rushing touchdowns to increase their lead to 25-0 with 4:25 left in the second quarter. Reed set up the first score with a 54-yard run, and the second Veasley score was aided by three plays of 10-plus yards to engineer the 80-yard drive.
After a Demons punt return miscue that led to a fumble on the NSU 11-yard line, the Demons held UCA to a 22-yard Jace Denker field goal as UCA led 28-0.
NSU moved the ball through the air on its final drive of the first half, resulting in an Eagan 6-yard touchdown catch from J.D. Almond. Eagan caught a short pass before reverse pivoting to avoid and defender and walked in for the score. Almond threw for 63 of his 108 first-half passing yards on that drive.
Earlier in the half, NSU had an opportunity for points, but UCA safety Bobby Watkins intercepted Almond in the end zone – one of three NSU turnovers in the half.
In the second half, Hildebrand hooked up with Jacquez McMillian for a 45-yard score to lead 35-7.
NSU responded with a 75-yard touchdown drive capped by a De’Mard Llorens touchdown to slice UCA’s lead to 35-14.
The Demons threatened to cross midfield in an attempt to close the deficit even more, but Almond missed an open receiver on fourth down to effectively end the comeback.
Hildebrand connected with Jatavious Wilson for a 42-yard touchdown strike on the next play.
Eagan leapt over a UCA defender for a 28-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter, and his two touchdown catches were his first of the season.