CONWAY, Arkansas – Cyron Sutton caught a school record 13 passes while Cody Orgeron recorded career high with 344 yards passing and four touchdown tosses, but 16th-ranked Central Arkansas scored 14 third quarter unanswered points to pull ahead of McNeese for good in a 40-31 Southland Conference win on Saturday in the 11th Annual Red Beans and Rice Bowl.
The loss dropped the Cowboys back under the .500 mark at 3-4 overall and 1-3 in league play while UCA improved to 4-2 and 2-1.
Orgeron added 59 rushing yards to end the game with 403 total offensive yards as the Cowboys ended the game with 439 total yards.
Self-inflicted miscues handcuffed the Cowboys from making a second straight fourth quarter rally.
Trailing 27-24 late in the third and with the ball on its own 42 and with the Cowboys punting it away, the snap sailed over punter Bailey Raborn’s head, who recovered the ball at the McNeese 7-yard line took over. Three plays later, UCA backup quarterback Luke Hales, who entered when starter Breylin Smith’s helmet broke, threw a 19-yard TD pass to Tyler Hudson to put the Bears up 34-24 with 2:46 to play in the third.
Later with UCA up 37-34, Cowboys’ kick returner J’Cobi Skinner fumbled away the kick at the 22-yard line after taking a hard hit.
That led to a 39-yard field goal by Hayden Ray put UCA up by two scores, 40-31, with 6:42 to play.
On the ensuing possession, McNeese drove the ball to the UCA 22, but a second-and-14 pass by Orgeron was intercepted at the goal line by Trai Mosley with 3:45 left on the clock.
“Just thinking about the mistakes that happened, they were critical,” said head coach Sterlin Gilbert. “We had the fumble on the KOR (kick off return), the fumble on the snap over the head, got the pick, got the penalty on the big KOR that backed us up. It’s going to go back to discipline and detail.”
McNeese had one last shot but turned the ball over on downs with 1:12 to play.
Things started off great for the Cowboys when on the second play of the game, Cory McCoy intercepted a UCA pass and on the second play of the game for the Cowboys, Orgeron connected with Sutton for a 31-yard strike to put the Cowboys up 7-0 just 34 seconds into the game.
The Bears drove down the field on their next possession but a Cody Roscoe sack on a third-and-5 at the 7 forced the Bears to settle for a field goal to make it a 7-3 game.
McNeese appeared to go up 14-3 after another touchdown catch by Sutton, but a review of the play indicated that Sutton did not control the ball as he fell to the ground and the reception was reversed. That set up a 25-yard Raborn field goal to put McNeese up 10-3 with 6:30 to play in the first.
UCA tied it 10-10 just a minute and a half later, but the Cowboys regained the lead on a 5-yard score from Orgeron to Sutton to make it a 17-10 game early in the second.
The Bears took a 20-17 lead with 1:56 to play in the half but the Cowboys went up 24-20 after Trevor Begue pulled down a 32-yard pass in the middle of the end zone in between two UCA defenders as the Cowboys took a four-point lead into the break.
UCA went up for good in the third quarter, when on its first play after a McNeese punt, Smith found Tyler Hudson over the middle to sprinted his way to the sideline and the end zone to cap a 78-yard scoring play and put the Bears up 27-24.
What followed was the poor snap on a punt that set up another touchdown to make it a 34-24 game.
McNeese responded with an impressive 14-play, 75-yard drive that covered 5:36 and ended with a 4-yard touchdown catch by Louis Conerly to pull McNeese to within 34-31 with 12:10 to play in the fourth quarter.
Then after the Bears drove to the McNeese 12, the Cowboys’ defense held UCA to a 25-yard field goal by Hayden Ray to increase the lead to 37-31 with 6:42 to play in the fourth.
Skinner fumbled the ball on the ensuing kickoff and UCA added a 39-yard field goal by Ray to put the Bears up 40-31 with 2:22 to play.
Elijah Mack led McNeese with 70 yard rushing on 20 carries as the Cowboys ran for 95 yards in the game. Begue added four catches for 80 yards and a score while Sutton hauled in 156 receiving yards, four shy of his career-high.
Defensively, McCoy posted 11 tackles while Kody Fulp added 10 stops.
The Bears finished with 445 yards, 57 rushing and 388 passing.
Smith completed 28 of 41 passes for 369 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.
• Cyron Sutton caught a touchdown pass for his fifth consecutive game.
• Cody Orgeron has thrown multiple TDs in a game for the fifth time in seven games and third straight.
• Andre Sam’s second quarter interception was the first of his career.
• OL Grant Burguillos started in his 34th straight game.