BEAUMONT, Texas — The No. 9/10 University of Central Arkansas Bears finally figured out how to start quickly Saturday afternoon and never looked back, parlaying it into an easy 45-17 victory over the Lamar Cardinals in Southland Conference action at Provost Umphrey Stadium.
The Bears (7-2, 5-1) scored 31 points in the first half and led at the half for just the second game this season. Sophomore quarterback Breylin Smith and freshman wide receiver Tyler Hudson had career days as the Bears turned in their largest margin of victory since a 66-35 win over Houston Baptist last October. Smith topped his season-high set just last week, throwing for 434 yards and four touchdowns and completing 30 of 37 passes (81.1 percent) for a quarterback rating of 215.3.
Hudson, a true freshman from nearby Spring, Texas, caught six passes for 120 yards and a career-high three touchdowns.
"It was a little different for us,' said UCA head coach Nathan Brown. "We haven't had a whole lot of games where we've had a score or two lead. But I thought our guys handled it very maturely just like they have in the come-from-behind wins. When the game mattered, we were able to make enough plays to put the momentum on our side and we took advantage of it.
"We talked about it all week as a team that we haven't peaked and haven't played out best game. But I thought this was one of our better total efforts. And I don't want to discredit Lamar and what they're about, because they've had some quarterback injuries, just like all of us. I thought our offense did a great job. We knew we were going to have to tackle a couple of athletic backup quarterbacks, and that's what we did all day. Offensively we were able to make some big plays and lean on the pass game and that's good to see.'
It all started with the UCA passing game, led by Smith and bevy of 10 different receivers. Smith, the reigning SLC Offensive Player of the Week, put up huge first-half numbers, completing 19 of 26 passes for 325 yards and three touchdowns. Two of those went to Hudson, who had four receptions for 92 yards, including consecutive touchdowns of 5 and 64 yards. The second score staked the Bears to a 21-0 lead just 12 minutes into the game.
The Cardinals (4-5, 2-4) got a 40-yard field goal from Bailey Giffen but the Bears matched that with a 29-yarder by Hayden Ray to keep the UCA lead at 24-3. Lamar scored its only first-half touchdown on a 5-yard run by quarterback Germain Givens but Smith teamed with junior tight end Sam Carmargo for a 1-yard touchdown pass, good for a 31-10 halftime lead.
UCA totaled a season-high 505 yards of total offense and also a season-high 434 yards through the air. Smith has now thrown for 839 yards and eight touchdowns in the past two games, and now has 2,848 passing yards and 24 touchdowns on the season.
"It's a testament to the guys we have around us just making plays,' said Smith. "When you have everybody working together, and you have weapons around you like we have, it makes it pretty easy. We have a lot of guys on this offense that can make plays. I'm just trying to get them the ball and let them do their thing.
Smith said playing with a lead was nice for a change.
"I like that, I like that a lot,' he said. "I'm not going to say (it was) more comfortable, but I just felt like we got to a point where we starting smelling blood and wanted more. And I think that's why it ended up like it did.'
In the second half, Smith added a 1-yard rushing touchdown and found Hudson with another touchdown pass, from 16 yards out, for a 45-10 lead. The Cardinals added a 1-yard scoring run in the final seconds to set the final.
UCA's defense held Lamar to just 285 total yards of offense, with 221 of that coming on the ground. The Cardinals' pair of backup quarterbacks, Shane Johnson and Jermain Givens, combined to complete 7 of 16 passes for just 64 yards and an interception. Lamar starter Jordan Hoy injured his shoulder last week against. Incarnnate Word
"Just pleased the way we came on the road, with a long road trip against a 2018 playoff team, knowing this was a pretty good unit we were going against, and we handled them pretty good,' said Brown.
In the past two games, Hudson has caught 16 passes for 260 yards and four touchdowns. That emergence is even more important with the season-ending injury to leading reciever Lujuan Winningham last week against Sam Houston State.
"It starts with Tyler Hudson now. This is his chance to shine and be a superstar,' said Brown. "We feel like he's got that ability. He has to stay humble and continue to get better but he possesses the ability to catch the ball that not many people do. He has phenomenal hands and Breylin put it on him a bunch of times. But the common theme is when No. 3 (Smith) is back there, we feel pretty good.'
The Bears now return home for two consecutive games, against Southeastern Louisiana next Saturday and Stephen F. Austin the week after.