The Missouri State football team scored three touchdowns in the last three minutes of the game to beat Central Arkansas 43-34 in the home opener.
“Wow. What a game,” head coach Bobby Petrino said. “I felt good about the way we played in the first half. I thought maybe we’d grind out a low scoring game.”
Redshirt junior running back Kevon Latulas had it going early. Rushes of 23, 13 and 13 yards on MSU’s second drive put the Bears in prime scoring position. Senior running back Tobias Little capped off the drive with a 2-yard rushing score, giving MSU a 7-0 lead in the first quarter.
Senior safety Titus Wall and the entire MSU defensive line were electric in the first quarter.
Wall made several plays in the passing game and even registered a sack. The defensive line limited the UCA run game and found ways to get pressure on UCA junior quarterback Breylin Smith.
Penalties on the MSU defense helped extend UCA’s drives. Unsportsmanlike penalties and personal fouls on MSU moved the chains and allowed UCA to answer with a 4-yard pass from Smith to senior tight end Sam Camargo, making the score 7-7.
Latulas popped off another 23-yard run on the ensuing drive to put MSU in the red zone. Senior quarterback Jason Shelley got in on the running action and scampered for a 16-yard score with seven minutes left in the half, giving MSU a 14-7 lead.
“Honestly, I can't give anything but thanks to God,” Latulas said. “I just make the most of what I can do. It made it more special because it was against UCA.”
UCA answered with a drive of nothing but rushing plays. Freshman running backs Trysten Hill and Darius Hale combined for 61 yards on the drive. Hale capped off the drive with a touchdown, making the score 14-14 with four minutes until halftime.
MSU answered the UCA score with one of its own in the last seconds of the half. A mind-boggling 25-yard catch from Damoriea Vick and an 18-yard run from Little set up Jose Pizano for a field goal attempt.
He cashed in from 39 yards, making the score 17-14 at the end of the half.
MSU opened the second half with a more pass-heavy attack. Shelley found a rhythm and completed four passes for 34 yards.
The Bears couldn’t reach the end zone and settled for a field goal. Pizano made good on a 35-yard kick, making the score 20-14 eight minutes into the half.
After a missed field goal by UCA, MSU took advantage of the good field position and added another score. Shelley connected with senior receiver Xavier Lane for a gain of 38. A few plays later, Pizano nailed his third field goal of the night, giving MSU a 23-14 with a minute left in the third quarter.
Whatever MSU did, UCA found a way to match.
A 62-yard kickoff return put UCA at the MSU 30 yard line. A long fourth-down conversion and tough running led to a 3-yard rushing touchdown from Hale, making the score 23-21 with 13 minutes left.
The teams traded punts before the first turnover of the night. Freshman cornerback Lemondre Joe snagged his first career interception with five minutes left in the game.
MSU couldn’t capitalize on the turnover and gave the ball back to UCA. A three-play 97-yard drive capped off by a 19-yard rushing touchdown by Hill gave UCA a 27-23 lead with three minutes left.
The UCA lead was short-lived. Junior cornerback Montrae Braswell took the ensuing kickoff 96 yards for a score, making the score 30-27 with under three minutes to play.
Like UCA’s lead, the Bears’ was not long for the world. Two plays later, UCA sophomore receiver Tyler Hudson snagged a pass, broke a few tackles and dove into the endzone with just over two minutes left, giving UCA a 34-30 lead.
“(UCA) made some great plays,” Petrino said. “We had guys in position. We were right there to play the ball but they went up and made the catch.”
As if things couldn’t get crazier, Shelley connected with Lane, who finished with 148 yards receiving and a touchdown, for a 26-yard score to cap off a seven-play 69-yard scoring drive, giving MSU a 37-34 lead with under 30 seconds left.
“It was the biggest moment of my career,” Lane said. “At first I was thinking ‘get as many yards as I can’ then I realized I broke a tackle and just saw the end zone and tried to sprint there.”
Senior linebacker Tylar Wiltz intercepted Smith’s final heave and took it for a score, making the final score 43-34.
Missouri State moves to 1-1 on the season. The Bears have next weekend off, but will resume play at home Saturday, Sept. 25 against South Dakota.
Follow TJ Scott on Twitter, @iamtjs_
Subscribe to The Standard's free weekly newsletter here.