No. 6 Central Arkansas pulls away from Northwestern State in second half

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NATCHITOCHES – Northwestern State and Central Arkansas ducked and dodged two lightning delays Saturday, but the Demons couldn’t evade electric Bears big plays in a 45-17 loss on homecoming.

The No. 6 Bears (6-1, 5-0 Southland Conference), NSU’s third straight ranked opponent, struck for passing touchdowns of 81, 57 and 32 yards to build a 21-point lead early in the third quarter.

“We had great emotion early and were ready to play, but it turned on us,” said NSU coach Jay Thomas. “We didn’t defend the pass well, and that’s hurt us all year.

“We had some penalties (6-for-76) that hurt us in field position, and we couldn’t get it flipped in a critical third quarter. We felt like we had a really good team on the ropes (in the first half).”

NSU (1-6, 1-4 SLC) had surprised its opponents with trickery this season, but UCA opened its bag of tricks to start the game.

The Bears pulled off an end-around flea-flicker on the game’s first play as quarterback Hayden Hildebrand found an open Roman Gordon for an 81-yard touchdown.

Tied 10-10 in the second quarter, Hildebrand found a streaking Gordon for a 57-yard strike and a 17-10 edge.

Gordon compiled 181 receiving yards on six catches (two touchdowns) as the favorite target of Hildebrand, who threw for 306 yards on 12-of-20 passing with three scores.

UCA’s Carlos Blackman tacked on a 2-yard touchdown run with 15 seconds remaining the half for a 24-10 advantage.

NSU’s defense did have its bright spots, holding UCA to a 26-yard Matt Cummins field goal after Xavier Bell fumbled the kickoff after the Bears’ first score. UCA also missed a short field goal and threw an interception to Ike Warren in the end zone in the first half.

The Demons answered with a 49-yard Eric Piccione field goal set up by a Chris Jones 43-yard screen reception to cut UCA’s lead to 10-3. A dropped pass earlier in the drive possibly cost NSU a touchdown.

Jones was NSU’s leading rusher and receiver, gaining 49 rushing yards and 69 receiving yards.

A lightning delay lasting one hour and 42 minutes struck with 9:18 remaining in the first quarter, but NSU’s offense started moving the ball on its next three drives.

The Demons marched 57 yards capped by a 2-yard Chris Jones touchdown run to tie the score at 10-10 with 7:11 left in the second quarter. Senior receiver Bryson Bourque’s 17-yard reception converted a third-and-long to sustain the drive.

But UCA’s two scores in the final four minutes of the half sapped NSU’s momentum, and the team’s waited out a second lightning delay of 45 minutes before resuming the second half.

“I don’t think the delays affected one team more than the other,” Thomas said. “UCA had to wait them out, too, and they were in a smaller locker room.”

The Bears didn’t skip a beat in the third quarter as Hildebrand connected with Cedric Battle for a 32-yard touchdown UCA had seven plays of at least 20 yards that totaled 291 yards.

The Demons had their own tricks, though, calling a fake punt on fourth-and-nine from its own 42. Punter Parker Pastorello through a short pass to Hayden Bourgeois, who scampered 58 yards for a touchdown to slice UCA’s edge to 31-17 with 10:25 in the third quarter.

“We needed to switch the momentum, and that did,” Thomas said. “But then we had critical penalties in the kicking game, and our offense couldn’t dig us out of the whole.”

Central Arkansas dashed any NSU hopes of a comeback with touchdowns on two of its next three drives compared to NSU not gaining a first down in the next four drives.

Blackman scored on runs of two and 19 yards to finish with three scores and 130 yards.

The Bears piled up 306 passing yards and 230 rushing yards, averaging more than eight yards per play.

Safety Ryan Reed led all defenders with 11 tackles.

NSU junior quarterback Clay Holgorsen threw for 149 yards on 11-of-25 passing with an interception.

The Demons gained 320 yards averaging about 4.6 yards per play.

NSU hits the road at Houston Baptist on Saturday before returning to Turpin Stadium to face Abilene Christian.

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