Football – NSU faces 2015’s biggest challenge Saturday at Mississippi State


STARKVILLE, Miss. – Northwestern State football coach Jay Thomas will be thinking about getting back into Southland Conference play at home next Saturday while his Demons take on their biggest challenge of the season Saturday at Mississippi State.

NSU (0-2) and Mississippi State (1-1) meet at Davis Wade Stadium in a 3:01 p.m. contest Saturday, carried to a national television audience on the SEC Network. The game broadcast will be on the Demon Sports Network, flagshipped by 100.7 KZBL in Natchitoches and including 710 AM KEEL in Shreveport, 105.5 FM KBKK in Alexandria and 103.1 KWLA in Many/Leesville. A free audio stream is available through

A week later, the Demons begin a string of eight consecutive Southland contests with a home game against Central Arkansas (0-2), which is off this weekend.

While the ultimate goal is to pull a stunning upset of a team that had the No. 1 ranking in major college football last season, and boasts one of the top Heisman Trophy candidates this fall in senior quarterback Dak Prescott, Thomas is at least equally determined to use Saturday’s visit to Mississippi State as a key evaluation tool.

“First and foremost, we go there to try to win a football game. Our guys have been on a big stage before and they won’t be intimidated. They know it’s a heck of a challenge and that excites competitors,” he said.

“As a coach, I’ve got to see the big picture, and this game is kind of a final checkpoint for us to evaluate how we operate and some players who could show us they should be in the mix as we get back to conference games after playing two straight bowl teams from last year,” he said.

The Demons fell 44-17, although they suffered dropped passes that would have provided two more touchdowns, last week at UL Lafayette. Mississippi State’s comeback fell just short in a 21-19 homefield loss to LSU.

Saturday’s game will see the Demons start a different quarterback for the third straight week. Sophomore J.D. Almond shined in his first collegiate experience in the second half at UL Lafayette and will open the game behind center for NSU. Thomas plans to get senior Stephen Rivers, junior Daniel Hazlewood and last week’s starter Joel Blumenthal into the game.

Defensively, NSU is trying to shore up a unit that has yielded big rushing totals in the first two games and faces its most daunting task against the SEC Bulldogs.

The Demons’ top tacklers are senior safety Chase Collins (19) and senior defensive end Leroy Armstrong (16), both Natchitoches Central products.