BEAUMONT, Texas – Two weeks, two ranked Southland Conference opponents and two heartbreaking setbacks for the Lamar Cardinals (3-4/0-1 SLC). Lamar took No. 20 Central Arkansas down to the wire but came up short, 26-24, on homecoming Saturday at Provost Umphrey Stadium.
"The team played hard, but we didn't play smart at times," said head coach Ray Woodard. "We've had opportunities to win two games over the last two weeks, and we haven't done it. Close games come down to coaching, and I have to do a better job. This was a winnable game and we let it get away. Now we have to go back to work and get back into a position to win football games. We don't have any time to sit around and feel sorry for ourselves."
After a combined total of 13 points in the first half, the offenses picked up the pace in the third quarter. Trailing 10-3, UCA took the opening drive 61 yards for a touchdown. Lamar was able to answer a little more than five minutes later when junior Caleb Berry guided Lamar on a four-play drive that covered 42 yards and ended with a Payton Ploch nine-yard reception. It was Ploch's second touchdown of the season, and his first receiving score.
The score gave Lamar back the lead (17-10), but it didn't last long as the Bears responded on the very next drive. UCA tied the game at 17 when quarterback Ryan Howard found Thomas Hart from three yards out. The Bears claimed their first lead of the game early in the fourth quarter when junior kicker Eddie Camara converted a 31-yard field goal.
Following the field goal, Lamar's defense went to work shutting down the Central Arkansas' offense. Lamar held UCA scoreless for the next 15:29, which was enough time for Lamar to reclaim the advantage. Berry put together a 16-play, 90-yard drive culminating in a five-yard touchdown pass to sophomore Reggie Begelton. The reception, which gave the Cardinals a 24-20 lead with 6:34 remaining, was one of a career-high 11 for Begelton. He also recorded a career-high 117 yards on the night.
The Bears had one last response as they reclaimed the advantage when Courtney Whitehead hauled in a 23-yard TD reception in traffic. Camara's extra point was blocked keeping the score at 26-24, with 2:46 remaining the contest. Needing only a field goal to claim victory, Lamar was able to move the ball to the UCA 33 setting up a 4th and 2 but Berry's pass to Begelton sailed out of bounds ending the Cards' upset attempt.
Berry finished the game completing 30 passes for 313 yards and three touchdowns, and connected with seven different receivers. Freshman Kade Harrington led Lamar's ground attack with 18 carries for 77 yards. He is now just 134 yards shy of setting a new LU freshman rushing record.
The Lamar defense was led by Nashon Davis and Jesse Dickson. The duo each finished the game with nine tackles and a sack.
The Cardinals return to action Saturday, Oct. 26, when they travel to Hammond, La., to take on Southeastern Louisiana. The game against the Lions is slated to begin at 7 p.m. from Strawberry Stadium.