ABILENE, Texas (UCA)- The University of Central Arkansas Bears scored in nearly every way imaginable Saturday in routing the Abilene Christian Wildcats 58-27 in Southland Conference action at Shotwell Stadium.
The victory kept the Bears (4-1) in first place in the SLC with a 3-0 mark, the third straight season they started conference play with three consecutive wins. ACU dropped to 0-5 and 0-3, losing to the Bears for the second straight year.
UCA had interception and kickoff returns for touchdowns, as well as five rushing touchdowns, a passing score and a safety in totaling dominating ACU. The Bears have now beaten the Wildcats by a combined score of 100-41 over the past two seasons after losing the first conference meeting between the teams in 2014. UCA forced three ACU turnovers a week after getting four against FBS Arkansas State and for the second consecutive game, did not turn the ball over.
"We didn't get off to the start we wanted to,' said UCA head coach Steve Campbell, "and we knew these guys were a second-half football team. Stephen F. (Austin) jumped out on them and they were able to come back. Houston Baptist jumped up on them and they came back. So I was little concerned when we didn't jump out of the gates the way we needed to.
"But the guys really responded and we had a great second quarter. We finished the quarter with George (Odum) getting the interception return for a touchdown. So we still finished and that's what we like to see.'
In the first half alone, the Bears got an 80-yard touchdown run from quarterback Hayden Hildebrand, rushing touchdowns from two of the six running backs they used in the first half and a combined safety by redshirt freshman defensive end Chris Terrell and senior tackle Terrence Partee to take a 37-13 halftime lead. Hildebrand also hit senior Jatavious Wilson with a 32-yard scoring pass as the Bears rolled up 301 yards of total offense _ 202 on the ground _ in the opening 30 minutes. After leading 9-7 after one quarter, UCA outscored ACU 28-6 in the second to effectively put the game away.
UCA's defense got in the mix as well as Odum, a junior rover from Millington, Tenn., returned an interception 18 yards for the final score of the half and Devin Spurlock intercepted another ACU pass as the Wildcats finished with 151 total yards at the half. Odum is the reigning SLC Defensive Player of the Week.
"George has played really well for us all year,' said Campbell. "That's just the way he is. He plays extremely hard, he's explosive and fast. That's just what he does. I was proud of that pick and it gave us a little breathing room at the half.'
The safety gave the Bears an early 2-0 lead at the 11:54 mark of the first quarter. With a 1-yard touchdown run by De'Andre Brown, the Wildcats grabbed their only lead of the game at 7-3 at the 7:05 mark of the first period. UCA answered with the touchdown pass to Brown and Hildebrand's 80-yard, the longest of his career, for a 16-7 lead.
After a 21-yard Nik Grau field goal for the Wildcats, UCA senior Kelton Warren capped a 48-yard, 8-play drive with a 1-yard touchdown, good for a 23-10 advantage. UCA's defense held again and Grau kicked another field goal for ACU, from 34 yards. UCA then scored the final 14 points of the half on freshman Keshawn Ledet's 4-yard run and Odum's interception return, the first of the season for the Bears.
In the third quarter, junior transfer Dwayne Smith returned an ACU kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown, UCA's first kickoff return for a score since 2014.
"We thought we had a chance to return one against them out of our regular set,' Campbell said. "Then they were kicking away from Jatavious. Dwayne came up and it was kind of a low, line-drive kick. He did a great job of catching it and getting back up inside. Deandre McGill had a great block and Jakari Dillard had one. There were a lot of people blocking on that play that allowed for that return.'
UCA ended up with rushing touchdowns from Ledet (4 and 7 yards), Jarvis Cooper (1 yard), Warren (1 yard) and Hildebrand. Hildebrand and Ledet both finished with 80 yard on the ground to lead all rushers. Hildebrand, a junior from Bossier City, La., completed 15 of 23 passes for 173 yards and a touchdown. Senior receiver/kick returner Jatavious Wilson passed Isaiah Jackson for the career lead in kickoff return yards with a 50-yarder in the second quarter, that set up Warren's touchdown. Wilson now has 2,475 career return yards, and is also second in career returns with 102, just four behind Jackson.