CONWAY, Ark. — Marcus Wiltz ran for a career-high 181 yards and McNeese State scored a school-record 35 second-quarter points as the Cowboys cruised to a 59-28 victory over Central Arkansas in the Southland Conference opener for both teams.
The win moved No. 11/14 McNeese to 5-1 on the season and 1-0 in league play while No. 14/11 UCA fell to 2-3 and 0-1.
The Cowboys (5-1, 1-0 Southland) reclaimed the Red Beans & Rice Bowl trophy, which had been in UCA’s possession the past three seasons. McNeese also defeated the Bears (2-3, 0-1) for the first time in Conway. It was UCA’s first home loss in 13 games since it installed the purple-and-gray-striped artificial turf at Estes Stadium in 2011.
“I thought we really played well in all phases of the game,” McNeese coach Matt Viator said. “The offense did a really nice job of moving the ball down the field, while the defense made some really big plays for us.”
McNeese rolled up a season-high 595 offensive yards — 272 on the ground and 323 from the air. Quarterback Cody Stroud completed 13 of 19 passes for 277 yards and three scores. Diontae Spencer completed his only pass of the game when he found Jereon McGilvery for 46 yards on a trick play that gave the Cowboys a 28-21 lead with 4:12 to play in the first half.
“I played some quarterback in high school and had a few touchdown passes, but that was my first in college,” said Spencer, who also made two catches for 81 yards and two touchdowns.
UCA finished with 644 yards of offense but was held to just 148 yards in the second half as the Cowboys sacked Bears quarterback Wynrick Smothers three times and picked him off three times.
One of the biggest plays of the game came midway through the second quarter with the score tied at 14 and UCA facing a second down at the McNeese 3-yard line. Smothers, a Destrehan High graduate, floated an off-balance pass near the side that was intercepted by Ryan Bronson and returned 98 yards for the touchdown and a 21-14 McNeese lead.
UCA tied the score at 21 on six plays that took just 2:19.
But Spencer’s pass to McGilvery gave McNeese the lead for good at 28-21 with 4:12 to play in the quarter.
Javaris Murray followed with a 12-yard touchdown run to make it 35-21 on a play that was set up by a 68-yard pass from Stroud to Murray.
The Cowboys added another touchdown after Chris Loveless batted down a Smothers pass and Kevin Dorn picked it off. Stroud then connected with Spencer down the middle for a 40-yard touchdown and a 42-21 lead going into halftime.
McNeese later scored in the third quarter when Stroud fired a 28-yard pass to Wiltz for a touchdown with 5:53 to play, putting the Cowboys in front 49-28.
LOUISIANA TECH 38, UTEP 35: In El Paso, Texas, Kenneth Dixon rushed for 200 yards to lead Louisiana Tech to a Conference USA victory over Texas at El Paso.
UTEP (1-4, 0-2 C-USA) opened the scoring when Jameill Showers scored from one-yard out. Dixon and the Bulldogs (2-4, 1-1) struck back, scoring 24 unanswered points. The Miners got within ten when Showers, who threw for 237 yards and three touchdowns, hit Jordan Leslie on a 28-yard scoring strike to close out the first half. UTEP opened the second half with another score when Trey Brown recovered a fumbled punt return, making it 24-21.
Louisiana Tech led 38-28 in the fourth when the Miners mounted another comeback. Showers hit Craig Wenrick from 6 yards out to make it 38-35 with just over a minute to play. The ensuing onside kick failed.
LOUISIANA COLLEGE 42, HOWARD PAYNE 39: In Brownwood, Texas, Joshua Martinez’s 47-yard field goal fell just short on the last play of the game, and Louisiana College held on for the win it its American Southwest Conference opener.
LC running back Ryan Montague scored from a yard out with eight minutes left in the third and added a 3-yard score just over a minute later after a Howard Payne fumble to push the lead to 35-10.
But Howard Payne went on a 21-play, 79-yard scoring drive to cut the lead to 35-17. On LC’s ensuing drive, quarterback Easton Melancon was intercepted by HPU’s Josh Eppler, setting up a 10-yard touchdown pass from Richard Young to Colby Mica. A successful two-point conversion made the score 35-25.
Louisiana College’s Ira Jewitt fumbled the ensuing the kickoff to set up a 4-yard TD pass from Young to Zarron Dove to bring the Yellow Jackets within 35-32.
LC scored on an 86-yard drive on its ensuring possession, capped by a 14-yard touchdown pass from Melancon to Kyle Galyon for a 42-32 lead. However, HPU answered again with an 87-yard scoring drive to make it 42-39.
After a stalled LC drive, the Yellow Jackets drove to the Wildcats’ 11-yard line with under a minute left, but a sack of Young by LC linebacker Cole Leftlett pushed HPU back to the 27-yard line.
A false start penalty and a 2-yard run from Dove set up Martinez’s 47-yard attempt that fell short, clinching the 42-39 victory for the Wildcats.
LC built a 21-10 lead at the half behind three touchdown passes, two from Melancon and one from Alonzo Bellamy, who filled in for an injured Melancon briefly in the second quarter.
LC’s first score came when Melancon hit freshman receiver Cole Crook, who was making his first career start at receiver, for a 6-yard touchdown on the Wildcats’ first drive of the game. Melancon hit Crook for a 10-yard score later in the first quarter. Bellamy, filling in for Melancon, connected with Kyle Galyon to help guide LC to a 21-10 lead at halftime.
Montague, the preseason ASC Offensive Player of the Year, had his second consecutive 150-yard game, finishing with 156 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries.
Melancon completed 23-of-41 passes for 238 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. Galyon had nine catches for 119 yards and two touchdowns.