SPRINGFIELD – In a game that featured five touchdowns in the final three minutes, 17 seconds, Missouri State emerged victorious, topping visiting Central Arkansas, 43-34, in MSU’s home opener here Saturday.
MSU (1-1) racked up 374 yards of total offense, including 213 in the second half, and showed remarkable resolve in the game’s closing moments to steal the victory.
Quarterback Jason Shelley threw for 231 yards in his first home start for Mo State, while receiver Xavier Lane caught 9 passes for 148 yards, and Kevon Latulas carried 10 times for 98 yards to set the pace for the home side.
It was Shelley’s 26-yard touchdown pass to Lane with 29 seconds left in the game that put Missouri State up for good, 37-34, capping a seven-play, 69-yard scoring drive in just 97 seconds. Shelley gained 19 ground yards on the drive, while Tyrone Scott’s 9-yard catch near midfield got the Bears to midfield. A key pass interference penalty on UCA got MSU to the 26 yard line where two plays later, Lane caught the ball at the 12 and eluded two tacklers to find paydirt and give MSU a 37-34 lead.
On the ensuing series, UCA took over at its own 25 with 29 seconds to go, but the visiting Bears could find no good fortune after three earlier touchdown drives in the quarter. Devin Goree had a quarterback hurry and a forced fumble to pace MSU’s defensive pressure before Ferrin Manulelelua broke up a third-down pass from Breyli Smith. On fourth down, Tylar Wiltz picked off a Smith pass and returned it for a touchdown as time expired to give Missouri State the nine-point win over the No. 16/19 UCA squad.
Smith finished 25-of-38 for 332 yards and a pair of TD’s for UCA, including 10 completions to Lujuan Winningham for 144 yards.
The late-game fireworks hardly seemed necessary just minutes earlier with Missouri State leading 23-14 early in the fourth quarter. After UCA drew within 23-21 on a 3-yard rush from Darius Hale, the Bears killed UCA’s next drive with an interception by LeMondre Joe at the Missouri State 9-yard line and just 5:46 to go.
MSU could not sustain the momentum, despite a 31-yard completion from Shelley to Lane on the drive, and the Bears were forced to punt it back to UCA 33 seconds after they took over.
Grant Burkett’s punt pinned the visitors in at their own 3-yard line with things looking Missouri State’s way with just 4:15 to go. But UCA wasted little time shifting the tide as the purple Bears covered 97 yards in just three plays to take their first lead of the game, 27-23. A 19-yard run by Trysten Smith capped the drive and gave the visitors a four-point lead after their two-point try failed.
But Missouri State had an answer. An immediate answer. On the ensuing kickoff, Montrae Braswell fielded the ball at his own four and weaved through traffic for a 96-yard touchdown return, giving Missouri State a 30-27 lead with just over three minutes to go.
Central Arkansas (0-2) then bounced off the canvas with a haymaker of its own. On its second play from scrimmage, Smith hit Tyler Hudson on the run, and he took it 71 yards for a score and pushed the visitors back on top 34-30 at the 2:14 mark.
Hudson finished with 3 receptions for 104 yards.
But the curtain call belonged to Missouri State. Shelley engineered the final scoring drive with just 2:06 to play and was composed for every snap of the 7-play, 69-yard march, including the game-winning pass to Lane.
Lane’s receiving total of 148 receiving yards was the most by a Missouri State player since Lorenzo Thomas had 173 yards vs. Southern Illinois in 2018.
“It was an exciting game,” said Bears head coach Bobby Petrino. “I’m proud of our players for their toughness and competitive spirit. We have a tremendous amount of respect for (UCA) and it was a great win for our program.”
The Bears took a 17-14 lead into the intermission after Shelley helped engineer three scoring drives in Missouri State’s five first-half possessions. MSU, which never trailed in the first half, out-gained the visitors by a 169-161 margin in that span and went into the locker room with the lead after the first of three field goals by Jose Pizano on the night.
Latulas was Missouri State’s catalyst on its first scoring drive, chewing off gains of 23, 14 and 13 yards to get the Bears into the red zone before Tobias Little eventually punched it in from two yards out for the game’s first score. The early touchdown drive covered 85 yards in just eight plays and broke a scoreless deadlock with just over four minutes left in the first quarter.
UCA answered quickly, taking just over five minutes to tie the game, 7-7, on a 4-yard TD pass from Smith to Sam Camargo. The visitors covered 56 yards on the 12-play scoring march.
The scoring stretch continued as the home side rebounded with a 16-yard TD run from Shelley at the 7:23 mark of the second to give MSU the lead once again, 14-7. The 60-play drive took just five plays, including a 23-yard rush by Latulas on a key third-down gain.
UCA tied it up again with 4:32 left in the second as Hale’s 1-yard TD rush knotted things at 14 apiece. The seven-play scoring drive for the visitors included a 33-yard rush by Trysten Smith to set up the score.
But just before the intermission, Missouri State turned to all-conference kicker Pizano to salvage a 10-play drive into the red zone that was disrupted by a pair of Bears penalties. The 39-yarder by Pizano made it 17-14 at the game’s midway point. On the drive, Shelley threw a 26-yard strike to Damoriea Vick on third-and-10, and later a third-down run by Little picked up 18 yards to sustain the clutch scoring surge.
The Bears will have next weekend off before returning to action on Sept. 25 with a home matchup against South Dakota in the conference opener for both teams. Kickoff for the Family Weekend matchup will be 7 p.m. (Central) with tickets available now at MissouriStateBears.com or at the Old Missouri Bank Box Office, (417) 836-7678, during regular box office hours.