ACU dropped its first conference game of the season in a 42-21 loss to the Central Arkansas Bears. The matchup was the first of seven Western Athletic Conference and Atlantic Sun Conference opponents for the Wildcats.
The Wildcats started strong with a 21-14 lead going into halftime but struggled to execute in the second half. The Bears scored 28 unanswered points to seal the win. Despite the tough loss, junior wide receiver Kobe Clark jumped to fourth place on the Wildcat career receiving list with 169 catches.
“I thought there was good and bad tonight,” head coach Dorrel said. “We were playing a really good football team and when you give up three turnovers in the second half and on third down it just kills you.”
Bears offensive coordinator and former ACU head coach Ken Collums fed his playmakers all night. Bears junior wide receiver from Humble, Lujuan Winningham, scorched the Wildcats’ secondary for eight receptions, 211 yards, and a touchdown. The Bears also rushed for 185 yards and a touchdown split mainly between freshman running back duo Trysten Smith and Darius Hale.
“I don’t think we handled their tempo very well,” Dorrel said. “I give them a lot of credit because they did some things tonight that we hadn’t seen. I thought their guys were really hungry. That’s the thing we talked about all week with our team was that we’re playing a top ten caliber football team that’s had some things not go their way.”
The quarterback battle was won by the Bears with junior quarterback Breylin Smith completing 28 of 38 passes for 358 yards and five touchdowns. Wildcats redshirt freshman quarterback Stone Earle completed 19 of 28 passes for 215 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. Earle threw a touchdown to redshirt freshman wide receiver Denver Holman, a transfer from Mary Hardin Baylor, for Holman’s second touchdown of the season.
“We got in our own heads,” Holman said. “We lost the mental game. UCA is a great team but it was on us.”
Holman’s touchdown saw a Wildcats 14-0 lead in the second quarter. Heading into halftime the Wildcats were up 21-14 on the Bears. However, the Wildcats let go of the rope and allowed the Bears to score 28 unanswered points at home in their first ASUN and WAC challenge game of the season.
“They’re very disappointed,” Dorrel said. “I told them, ‘Thank you,’ because it’s great when you have a group of guys in a locker room that are upset they lost a football game. We looked very stressed on defense with blown coverages, not getting calls, and we had to use timeouts early in the game. I think it was just guys trying too hard and we got to have competitive maturity to be poised and focused.”
The Wildcats look to bounce back next weekend at Eastern Kentucky in their second WAC and ASUN conference matchup. The game starts at 6 p.m. EST, or 5 p.m. CST Saturday on ESPN+.