CONWAY – The UIW Cardinals made program history on Saturday afternoon as they defeated the Central Arkansas Bears (5-5, 4-4) 40-27 to clinch a share of the Southland Conference championship at Estes Stadium.
The victory is the first win over Central Arkansas in program history for UIW as well as their first conference championship in their 10-year history after a 1-10 season a year ago.
“I’m just happy for the kids. I’m proud of them,” UIW Head Coach Eric Morris said. “They bought into what we were selling them. We told them they’d have a great product if they worked hard for it. They are a testament to what pure heart, determination, and courage can do.”
FB: Watch Southland Conference championship trophy presentation for @UIWFootball. The Cardinals clinched at least a share of title with win over UCA Saturday.
— Southland Conference (@SouthlandSports) November 11, 2018
The Cardinals trailed early as the Bears went up 14-3 in the second quarter but from there it was all UIW. Quarterback Jon Copeland found Lamont Johnson for a 16-yard score, cutting the UCA lead to 14-10.
Just before halftime, the Cardinals took their first lead and would never trail the rest of the game. After Copeland left the game, quarterback Sean Brophy took UIW down the field on a seven-play, 80-yard drive to put the Cardinals up 17-14 at the break.
Ra’Quanne Dickens extended UIW’s lead in the second half and added to the Cardinals history-making season in the process. The senior running back broke loose for a 15-yard score and on the next Cardinals drive added a four-yard touchdown to put UIW up 30-14.
Central Arkansas responded quickly and ran just 2:04 off the clock as Dwayne Smith hauled in a 30-yard touchdown pass to make it a 30-21 ballgame. But that is as close as the Bears would get as Dickens banged his way into the end zone on the next UIW possession to make it 37-21.
Dickens finished the game with 213 rushing yards and broke the program record for single-season rushing yards and single-season rushing touchdowns.
UIW finishes conference play with a 6-2 record, their best in school history. In Eric Morris’ first season, the Cardinals own a 6-4 overall record and went a perfect 5-0 at Benson Stadium.
“That’s what “stealth mode” meant this whole year,” Morris said. “It meant we were going to work hard where others were talking. We weren’t going to pay attention to that. We were just going to keep our heads down and work towards something. I don’t think we are stealth mode anymore; people know who we are. What a great team performance tonight.”
The UIW Cardinals will now wait for news on the postseason. The Cardinals will earn the full title as well as the SLC’s automatic bid to the FCS playoffs if Nicholls (7-3, 6-2) loses to Southeastern Louisiana Thursday night.