Central Arkansas' perseverance keeps conference title hopes strong
(STATS) - Central Arkansas was forced to play last weekend without leading rusher Dominique Thomas.
That didn't prove too much of an issue as the Bears won 35-17 at Lamar behind Blake Veasley's record-setting night.
The senior set school marks with 292 yards and 49 carries while scoring four touchdowns and keeping Central Arkansas in the thick of the Southland Conference race, one game back in the loss column to McNeese State.
The Bears (4-3, 4-1) have also started their backup quarterback, sophomore Hayden Hildebrand, for the past four games with Taylor Reed recovering from an injured left shoulder. Hildebrand has also played with an ailing shoulder, and one of his leading receivers, Jatavious Wilson, has dealt with an ankle injury.
"We just try to develop a next-man-up mentality, and the guys have been prepared," coach Steve Campbell said. "We tell our guys that you're only one play away from being the starter and being the guy that we're expecting to break a record or have a tremendous game."
Reed has been cleared to play this week but it's unknown if he'll regain his starting role. Thomas (concussion) and cornerback Dillion Winfrey (groin) might also be ready to go for Saturday's game against Southeastern Louisiana (4-3, 3-2).
The Bears will try to put a dent in the Lions' playoff hopes and all but finish their chances of contending for a third straight conference title. Southeastern is playing without versatile All-American Xavier Roberson (broken leg) and wide receiver Jeff Smiley (knee), who are out for the season.
The Lions avoided a third consecutive loss last Saturday with a 22-7 victory over last-place Houston Baptist. With Roberson not in the backfield, Kody Sutton carried the load with a career-high 156 yards on 23 carries.
If McNeese wins at Abilene Christian on Saturday, the 10th-ranked Cowboys would give Matt Viator a Southland-record 52 league victories.
That's one of the last things on the coach's mind.
More importantly, a win over the Wildcats would keep McNeese (7-0, 6-0) in sole possession of the conference lead heading into a savory matchup with No. 8 Sam Houston State (5-2, 5-1) next weekend. The Cowboys would clinch the conference's automatic bid for the FCS playoffs by winning each of their next two games.
"We're right in the middle of a season where we have a chance, maybe, possibly, if we continue to play well to do something special. That's really all I'm focused on," Viator said.
Viator tied former Sam Houston coach Ron Randleman with a 47-27 victory over Northwestern State last Saturday.
Lamar running back Kade Harrington is also on the verge of breaking a tie for his program's most consecutive games with 100-plus yards. The junior recorded his fifth in a row in the loss to Central Arkansas with 243 yards, matching Burton Murchison's record from 1985.
Having reached 1,358 yards this season, Harrington is 190 shy of surpassing Murchison's single-season mark of 1,547 from that same year. The second-leading rusher in the FCS has topped 200 yards in four of his seven games.
Northwestern State kicker Chris Moore needs eight more points for his school's all-time scoring record.
Robert Weeks had 223 points from 2005-08, including a school-best 42 field goals. Moore has converted 39.
Central Arkansas' Jonathan Woodard remains two sacks shy of tying the school's career mark set by Mike Coffman with 30 from 1979-82. He also needs 3 1/2 tackles for loss to own a share of another record.
Myke Tavarres needs 12 tackles and one sack to set single-season marks at Incarnate Word. The Cardinals outside linebacker was the Southland's defensive player of the week after registering 11 tackles - 4 1/2 for loss - and 1 1/2 sacks in a 25-20 win over Abilene Christian on Sunday.