When Chief Caddo has entered Turpin Stadium with coach Jay Thomas on Northwestern State’s sideline, the largest trophy in college football hasn’t left.
For the third time in Thomas’ five-year NSU tenure, the Demons flexed its muscle against Stephen F. Austin, sending Thomas off a winner Saturday with a 38-21 win against the Lumberjacks.
After dousing Thomas with an ice bath, the Demons (4-7, 4-5 Southland Conference) swarmed Chief Caddo, who was waiting patiently in Jack Clayton Plaza.
“I sprinted to Chief Caddo, and I wanted to lift it, but this thing is heavy,” said senior running back Chris Jones, who rushed for a season-high 158 yards on 25 carries, his fifth career 100-yard game and fourth this season. “I had to let the big boys come get it for me.
“Our offensive line came out aggressively, and we saw on film that (SFA) wanted to make you run the ball instead of pass. We rose to the test, and we ran a lot of counters and powers that popped.”
NSU’s “Purple Swarm” defense jumpstarted the offense, helping NSU build a 21-0 lead as the home team never trailed against SFA (4-7, 4-5).
The Demons hadn’t amassed that margin against an NCAA Division I opponent in 25 games (since Oct. 31, 2015, at Nicholls).
Senior Peyton Guidry intercepted SFA quarterback Jake Blumrick on the game’s first play, setting up a Marquisian Chapman 15-yard touchdown catch from quarterback Clay Holgorsen for a quick 7-0 lead.
Guidry sabotaged SFA’s offense all night, tallying a career-high 18 tackles with three for loss.
“We came out on a mission to bounce back from last week’s game against McNeese,” said Guidry, one of 17 seniors to celebrate a win in their final collegiate contest. “This defense and this team wanted show who we really were, and we did that tonight.
“Our defensive line forced a lot of cutbacks, and things fell right in my hands. Credit those guys for keeping things in the box and allowing us to make tackles.”
Other than an SFA missed field goal that spoiled a 64-yard drive, the Lumberjacks didn’t get an offensive first down in four of their first five drives.
NSU scored on consecutive possessions in the second quarter, a 29-yard Jared West touchdown run and a 9-yard Jaylen Watson scoring catch from Holgorsen on third down as the Demons led 21-0.
West ran for 45 yards on just six carries. NSU amassed 258 rushing yards with the help of six runs of 15 yards or more.
The Demons answered a Lumberjack touchdown with a 22-yard Eric Piccione field goal to go up 24-7.
SFA didn’t go away, marching 90 yards capped by a Blumrick 20-yard touchdown pass to Tamrick Pace to cut NSU’s edge to 24-14.
But the Demons sprinted 75 yards in just 1:15 as Holgorsen found senior Cameron Lazare on a 9-yard fade route, giving NSU a 31-14 halftime lead.
Holgorsen finished with 123 yards on 9-of-14 passing and three first-half passing touchdowns.
“It’s not about me, it was about the focus of these seniors and the desire to send them out the right way,” said Thomas, who finishes his NSU career 21-37 and boosted the Demons from last to sixth place in the SLC this season. “The guys had great passion tonight, fighting for Chief Caddo.
“These seniors have been through thick and thin, and they’ve been committed to getting the job done. We could of easily had six or seven wins this year. My dad (Larry Thomas, a longtime coach at Baker High near Baton Rouge) always told me to leave things better that you found it, and we’ve done that here.”
In the second half, NSU faltered early with fumbles on the first two possessions, both deep in Demon territory.
SFA took advantage of the first fumble (Holgorsen), cashing in for a 27-yard touchdown from Blumrick to Trae Hart, slicing the deficit to 31-21.
But Guidry and fellow senior Lyn Clark stuffed a shuffle pass on fourth-and-two from the Lumberjack 3-yard line, preserving a stop that included a missed SFA field goal wiped out by an NSU offsides.
“This is a reflection of our seniors,” said Clark, who had five tackles, two for loss including a sack. “
Senior quarterback J.D. Almond entered the game, leading NSU 89 yards culminated by a 23-yard Jared West touchdown run for a 38-21 lead. Almond found Watson for a 36-yard connection in the drive.
Almond, a Haughton native, threw for 58 yards on 3-of-6 passing, kneeling for the win in the final seconds.
“It’s very exciting to get to do that, and it was a good effort on both sides of the ball tonight,” said Almond, who sparked the offense after early second-half struggles. “It’s satisfying to go out the way we did.
“Running over to Chief Caddo is a feeling I won’t forget.”
Guidry, who totaled a team-high 76 tackles, blew up another fourth-down try from SFA with fellow senior Austin Balthazor midway through the third quarter.
NSU’s defense corralled SFA from there, stopping the Lumberjacks from gaining a first down on four of their final six possessions.
SFA gained 324 yards and just 74 yards on the ground.