CONWAY, Ark. – Eastern Kentucky University’s football team erased a 24-0 deficit and took a 25-24 lead, but couldn’t hold off No. 11 University of Central Arkansas in a 37-25 loss on Saturday in Conway, Arkansas.
Central Arkansas went in front 24-0 with 12:47 left in the second quarter. EKU got on the board when redshirt freshman Isaiah Velez made his first appearance as a Colonel and engineered an 11-play, 45-yard scoring drive that ended with a 27-yard field goal by Alexander Woznick. An interception by Kmare Carey on the next UCA possession gave Eastern the ball right back. Alonzo Booth’s 8-yard touchdown run made it 24-9 at the end of the first half.
After the halftime break, EKU scored on all three of its third quarter possessions to complete the comeback from 24 points down. Eastern out-gained the Bears 174-32 in the third quarter.
Woznick added a 36-yard field goal to make it a 12-point game, 24-12, with 11:54 on the clock. Keyion Dixon caught a 2-yard pass in the back of the end zone with 7:18remaining in the third. A 2-yard run to the left by Velez completed the comeback and put Eastern on top 25-24 with 2:00 to go in the third quarter.
None of EKU’s three third quarter scoring drives lasted more than 3:53.
The Bears (5-4) righted the ship in the fourth, scoring twice to pull out the win.
The Colonels will host the 2020 Opportunity Bowl presented by Raising Cane’s, and in memory of Dr. Sheila Pressley, next Saturday at Roy Kidd Stadium. EKU will play Western Carolina beginning at 3 p.m. ET.
Pressley, who passed away in January of 2020, was the dean of the College of Health Sciences at Eastern Kentucky University. She attended Western Carolina University for her undergraduate education, graduating in 1989. The name for the bowl game was a natural fit as EKU is known as a school of opportunity. The Opportunity Bowl provides a platform to highlight opportunity-focused initiatives at EKU. These initiatives include the Eastern Scholar House for single parents with children, the early Childhood Development Center, the EKU Veterans Education and Transition Support Center which delivers supportive services for veterans, the Workforce Pathway at Kit Carson Commons which is currently under construction, and the Colonel Commitment Scholarship Model.
Booth finished with 124 yards and a touchdown on 33 carries. Velez was 15-for-19 for 151 yards. He threw one touchdown pass and no interceptions. Jackson Beerman had three catches for 62 yards. Matthew Jackson finished with 10 tackles.
Eastern Kentucky out-gained UCA 201 to 75 on the ground and held a 419-399 edge in total offense.
Central Arkansas returned the opening kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown and then scored twice more in the first quarter to jump in front 17-0. Cameron Myers took the kick back for six. Seren Hughes-Ford made a 30-yard field goal with 10:07 left in the first. A 69-yard touchdown catch by Tyler Hudson from Luke Hales with 7:44 to go in the opening frame pushed the lead to 17 points.
After scoring on two big plays in the first quarter, the Bears used a methodical 12-play, 99-yard drive in the second to make it 24-0. Kierre Crossley capped it with a 2-yard touchdown run.
UCA took the lead for good on Marshu Douglas’ 1-yard touchdown run with 14:21 left in the game.
Hales threw for 324 yards on 20-for-32 passing with two touchdowns and two interceptions for Central Arkansas. Hudson had eight catches for 154 yards and a score.