CONWAY, Ark. — Missouri Western made its return to the field for the first time in 329 days Saturday against FCS No. 11 Central Arkansas, falling 52-10 at Estes Stadium.
Western was without three members of its defensive coaching staff, including defensive coordinator Justin Richter, due to being quarantined as part of COVID-19 protocols. The Griffons also missed numerous starters on both sides of the line and in the backfield — including All-MIAA defensive lineman Arnold Crayton and running back Shamar Griffith — due to injuries and COVID-19 protocols.
The Griffons gave up two touchdown passes of more than 50 yards and were the victim of a fumble returned for a touchdown, all in the first half, after taking an early 7-0 lead.
Western (0-1) was only able to muster up 46 yards on 31 carries, finishing with 198 yards. Central Arkansas averaged 8.56 yards per play, totaling 539 total yards on the day.
Following a 66-yard return on the opening kickoff by All-American Trey Vaval, the Griffons rushed the ball six times, ending with a 1-yard plunge by Jared Scott for a 7-0 lead.
Western forced a 3-and-out before UCA scored on a 71-yard catch-and-run by Tyler Hudson on its second drive. Hudson leaped above Western defensive back D.J. Sturgis and jogged nearly 30 yards untouched to complete the highlight reel score. Hudson added a 56-yard touchdown on UCA’s next drive for a 14-7 lead.
Smith threw his third touchdown to Lujuan Winnignham from 32 yards out before a fumble by Scott was returned for a touchdown and 28-7 UCA lead.
Smith and Winnigham connected again following a field goal, giving the Bears a 38-7 advantage at halftime.
The Bears gave Smith the rest of the game off following a 4-yard touchdown pass to Austin Eldridge, putting UCA (4-4) up 45-7.
The Griffons answered with a nine-play, 65-yard drive that ended in a Roland Tyson field goal.
Western recovered a fumble in the fourth before an interception from Cooper Burton, who led Western with four catches for 54 yards. UCA used the drive for the final score, a 67-yard run.
Western QB Anthony Vespo finished 16 of 25 for 143 yards. Smith threw for 283 on 17-of-23 passing.
Western will host Pittsburg State (0-1) at 3 p.m. next Saturday at Spratt Stadium.