By: Jason Pugh (Northwestern State Athletics)
NATCHITOCHES, La (Northwestern State Athletics) — The Northwestern State football team did not suffer a sluggish start Saturday afternoon against McNeese.
The tough part of the Southland Conference game for the homestanding Demons came in the second quarter as the Cowboys took advantage of the wind and extremely favorable field position to set the tone for a 35-17 McNeese victory.
“I’m very disappointed,” fourth-year head coach Brad Laird said. “We came out up 3-0 and went through a bad stretch in the second quarter. It all started when they pinned that punt at the 1. We were going into the wind, and their next three possessions were on the plus-24, the plus-42 and the plus-48. They converted two of those into touchdowns.”
As the Demons (2-4, 1-2) fought the wind, the Cowboys (2-4, 1-2) took advantage.
Following a Callum Eddings punt that was downed at the 1, the Demons went three and out. A short punt gave the Cowboys the ball at the NSU 24, and three plays later, Josh Parker’s 3-yard run started a 21-point second-quarter avalanche that put the Cowboys ahead to stay.
In a matchup between the Southland’s top turnover-forcing defense (Northwestern State) and its stingiest offense in terms of giveaways (McNeese), the Demons did not produce enough extra possessions to change the momentum.
Instead, one came from the Cowboys as Corione Harris returned a Zachary Clement fumble 15 yards for the final of McNeese’s three second-quarter touchdowns and a 21-3 lead.
“We had some big stops defensively,” Laird said. “One came after the fake punt they had in the second half. There was another after the punt return to the 6. We got a stop when they turned it over out of the end zone, but we weren’t able to get that big momentum takeaway that we have in the past. In times like that, whenever we can’t get it going, that’s when a big takeaway can change the momentum.”
Northwestern State’s offense managed just 254 yards on the game, 104 of which came in the first half.
For the second straight week, the Demons came alive offensively in the second half as Clement scored twice on a pair of short runs, marking the third straight game he posted a rushing touchdown.
However, the 25-point deficit built by the Cowboys on Parker’s 19-yard run at the 8:39 mark of the third quarter was too much to overcome.
“We weren’t clicking,” said receiver Jay Griffin IV, who led NSU with five catches for 38 yards and added 20 yards on four carries. “We weren’t executing the way we need to execute. We can do a better job catching the ball, passing, blocking, everything. We’ve got to step our game up next week.”
Clement saw his most extensive playing time of the season, playing the entire second half, and finished 8-for-15 for a career-high 147 yards through the air in addition to his two rushing touchdowns.
Defensively, the Demons held McNeese to 337 yards total offense and collected a season-high 11 tackles for loss.
Linebacker Jomard Valsin had three of those tackles behind the line, including a sack, as part of a 10-tackle performance. Isaiah Longino added two TFLs as eight different Demons made a stop behind the line of scrimmage.
“We’ve got to continue to do our jobs,” Valsin said. “When we did, they had three and outs, and we got them off the field. We’ve got to keep our head up.”
Added Laird: “We did a lot of good things, but there are a lot of things we can point at in all three phases. The bottom line is I didn’t have this football team prepared to play. I’ve got to be better, and we’ll be better as we move forward.”
The Demons cap a two-game homestand next Saturday, hosting Southeastern at 3 p.m. in NSU’s annual Homecoming game.