NATCHITOCHES - Ignited by a 20-yard fumble return for a go-ahead touchdown on the second half kickoff, nationally-ranked Central Arkansas erupted for a 45-20 Southland Conference football road victory over Northwestern State in a showdown for second place in the league standings.

UCA (7-3 overall, 6-1 in the Southland) outscored Northwestern (5-4, 3-2) 35-0 after halftime, beginning with Al Lasker’s touchdown return.

After being outgained 232-130 but hanging within 20-14 at halftime, the 25th-ranked Bears posted a telling 134-3 yardage advantage in the third quarter before 9,156 at Turpin Stadium.

On the second-half kickoff, Northwestern State’s Jeremy Lane returned the ball to the 25 before a gang of UCA tacklers met him, dragging him back near the 20. Lasker stripped the ball loose as Lane was going to the ground, scooped it up and ran 20 yards for a score which put the Bears up 21-20 just 14 seconds into the third period.

Central Arkansas took control with its next possession, driving 73 yards in seven plays, scoring on a 25-yard Dominique Croom catch and run from Nathan Dick on fourth-and-6 for a 28-20 advantage.

The Bears pounded out another 73-yard march on nine snaps, the final one on third-and-goal at the 1 when Dick found Thomas Hart for a touchdown with 2:40 left in the third period to open a 35-20 lead.

UCA picked up a 25-yard Eddie Carmona field goal on its next possession and added a 55-yard interception return for a score with 42 seconds left to play by Marcus Peters.

“Give UCA all the credit, they whipped us in the second half in every phase of the game,” Demons coach Bradley Dale Peveto said in a university release. “I thought we played a good first half, but we didn’t sustain that. It was a total team loss from the head coach on down, and it was still a game that was very much within our reach. The biggest stat is we had four turnovers, they had none.”

UCA took advantage of the first turnover to take a quick 7-0 lead. A fumbled punt recovered by Croom at the 12 set up an 8-yard Terence Bobo run three plays later.

Northwestern responded quickly, moving 81 yards in six plays, the last an 18-yard Rumeall Morris sweep for a tying touchdown just six minutes into the contest.

The Demons drove 57 yards in nine plays on its next series, netting a 29-yard John Shaughnessy field goal and a 10-7 lead.

Dick guided UCA on a 12-play, 74-yard drive finished by a 29-yard catch and run down the Bears’ sideline for a touchdown by Brett Soft, pushing the visitors up 14-10.

The Demons answered, going 75 yards in 11 plays with Brad Henderson throwing a fade route to Louis Hollier for a 12-yard TD and a 17-14 Demons’ lead.

Shaughnessy made it 20-14 just 27 seconds before halftime, knocking in a 28-yard field goal, his 11th straight make, at the end of a 15-play, 69-yard march that grinded 6:46 off the clock.