CONWAY, Ark. -- It's a state of Arkansas thing.
The public address announcer exclaims, "... and an (insert name of team) ..."
The fans respond, "first down."
Twenty times Saturday afternoon at Estes Stadium, it was time for crowd participation. But if it's a tradition to yell "touchdown" instead of "first down" at the appropriate time, the game didn't yield evidence.
The Bearbackers' enthusiasm midway in the fourth quarter just wasn't there. Thanks to another successful road trip by Valdosta State.
Second-ranked VSU swept into this central Arkansas town Saturday and left just as quickly with a 35-11 win. The Blazers capped the day with another stunning performance by its Black Swarm defense, limiting Central Arkansas to its fewest points in UCA head coach Clint Conque's 30 games at the school.
"We focused on making the plays at the right times," said senior defensive tackle Dewayne Smith, who finished with seven tackles (two for loss). "One big play could decide the game, and we don't know which one it will be. We play like every play is a big play."
The Swarm made its mark early, then gave the fans something to talk about late.
Central Arkansas ran three plays and punted on its first two possessions, including safety Wesley Brown (eight tackles) forcing a fumble, and knocking the ball backwards and out-of-bounds, which could have gone for a first down. A third series ended with safety Ced Dickerson's interception.
On the next two series, Central Arkansas responded. And so did VSU.
Down 7-3, the Bears drove down to the VSU 20. They used two timeouts and converted a fourth-down play from the VSU 22. Three incomplete passes later, and UCA settled for Justin Smith's 37-yard field goal.
On the second drive, UCA had first-and-goal at the 4. Running back Shaun Mitchell was stopped on first down (by Elliott Burkes and Brown) and third down (by Jason Cost and Dickerson). Quarterback Zac Clark threw incomplete on second and fourth down.
Instead of being up 14-7, or at least 10-7, Central Arkansas trailed 7-3. It never led the whole day.
"That really swung the momentum our way," said defensive coordinator Kevin Shirley.
And the momentum needed swinging VSU's way. UCA ran 51 offensive plays the first half (to VSU's 26), though it was outgained 246-216.
So VSU's offense came out in the second half, running for show and throwing for dough, er, touchdowns. Two Buster Faulkner passes made it 28-3 with 11 minutes left.
But the defensive fun was to continue.
UCA answered with what's officially a 72-yard, 12-play drive. It took six plays for the Bears to get to the 10.
It took six more official plays, and nine snaps in all, for UCA to score.
The first third down was extended on a face-mask penalty. The Bears scored on the next play, but that was called back because of what was called ineligible man downfield.
VSU was called for holding in the end zone on the next pass, giving UCA an automatic first down. Cost and Marlin Adams followed with the first-down stop, with Smith making the tackle for loss on second down.
On third-down at the 4, Clark's pass was broken up and intercepted by Dickerson. He went 95 yards on the return to the UCA 2, but that was called back because of pass interference.
Tired? Yes, because on snap No. 9 backup quarterback Henry Young ran in from the 2 for the score.
"You can't play any better than what they played down there," Shirley said. "Sooner or later, if you keep giving them chances ...
"I was proud of the effort to make them snap it as many times down there as they did."
It was UCA's second-straight loss after opening the year with high expectations and a 5-0 record. There were dropped passes and bad penalties for a second-straight week.
"They're a good defense, but we're in position to make so many plays and we just didn't make them," Conque told the local media Saturday. "We killed ourselves again with dropped balls and penalties. We're in position to make some plays and didn't make them on both offense and defense."
It's making plays which can make the season, coach
"Hopefully if our guys realize they can do that every week we can have a special season," said VSU head coach Chris Hatcher. "The next one is going to be a very tough ballgame because we're the ones everybody is out to get."
Next for the Gulf South-leading Blazers (5-0, 7-0) is a 1 p.m. game Saturday with West Alabama at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium. VSU now leads Southern Arkansas and Harding by one game with four games left.
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