NCAA FOOTBALL: Colonels rally, but Bears battle back

The frustration was easy to hear in the voice of EKU coach Walt Wells.

"We are in the game way too much not to win," he said in a postgame radio interview on Saturday following a 37-25 loss to Central Arkansas in Conway, Ark.

The Colonels (2-6), however, found a way not to win, again.

EKU rebounded from an almost disastrous start to briefly take the lead in the third quarter before the Bears rallied. Central Arkansas out-scored the Colonels 13-0 in the final period to earn a measure of revenge for a loss to EKU three weeks ago at Roy Kidd Stadium.

It's the second time during this COVID-19 shortened season the Colonels have lost after leading in the fourth quarter.

"I think we've grown as a football team, but we haven't grown in wins," Wells said. "And that's all that matters. I understand that. I fully embrace that and that's on me. But, you see the kind of football we can play when we get everyone going in the right direction. The biggest disappointment for me is that I feel like we have missed great opportunities. We've got to continue to learn and grow."

The Colonels were able to come up with a 31-28 win when they took on Central Arkansas on Oct. 24 in Richmond.

The re-match featured some new faces.

Central Arkansas quarterback Breylin Smith was not available after testing positive for COVID-19. EKU starting quarterback Parker McKinney missed his second-straight game after being injured in the win over Central Arkansas.

Redshirt junior Dakota Allen helped EKU rally for a win in the first match-up, highlighted by the game-winning touchdown pass with seven seconds left.

Allen started on Saturday, but didn't stay in the game very long.

He was replaced in the first half by redshirt freshman Isaiah Velez, who gave EKU a much-needed spark.

In his first-ever college game, the Miami, Fla., native completed 15-of-19 passes for 151 yards and a touchdown. His 2-yard touchdown run with two minutes left in the third quarter gave the Colonels an improbable 25-24 lead.

"Coming into the game, (Isaiah) was our No. 2," Wells said. "Kaymen Cureton had been sick all week. We knew Isaiah could run like that. We've never seen him take a hit, so we were curious about that. He played well. He gave us a chance to get back in the game."

EKU appeared to be in big trouble early.

Cameron Myers returned the opening kickoff the game 96 yards for a touchdown. A field goal and a 69-yard pass from Luke Hales to Tyler Hudson put the Bears (5-4) up 17-0 with 7:44 left in the first quarter. Central Arkansas pushed out to a 24-point lead on a touchdown run by Kierr Crossley early in the second quarter.

EKU slowly began to get back in the game behind Velez.

A 27-yard field goal by Alex Woznick and an 8-yard touchdown run by Alonzo Booth got the Colonels back within 15 points at halftime (24-9). Another field goal and a TD pass from Velez to Keyion Dixon cut the lead to just five points.

Velez capped an 8-play, 68-yard drive with his first rushing TD, putting the Colonels ahead for the first time.

That lead lasted less than three minutes.

Another special teams miscue - a 56-yard kickoff return by Myers - put the Bears in position to jump back into the lead. The Colonels had two punts blocked last week in a loss to Stephen F. Austin.

"We have got to get our coverage units fixed," Wells said. "It is unacceptable. That will be my sole focus this week - our punt and kick teams. We've got to learn to play smart football."

Marshu Douglass scored on a 1-yard run with 14:21 left in regulation, then after an EKU punt, Hales threw a 12-yard TD pass that sealed the win.

Allen for 4-of-7 for 67 yards before being replaced by Velez. Alonzo Booth had a career-high 33 rushes for 124 yards.

Dixon and Matt Wilcox Jr., each had four catches for EKU, while Jackson Beerman and Jacquez Jones had three receptions each.

Allante Leapheart and Kmare Carey each had interceptions for the Colonels.

Hales - making his first start of the season - was 20-of-32 for 324 yards. Hudson had eight catches for 154 yards.

Both teams had 23 first downs and EKU out-gained the Bears, 419-399. The Colonels also held the ball for more than 35 minutes.

EKU is set to wrap up the 2020 season next Saturday at home against Western Carolina.

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