The Northwestern State football team hoped its home opener would be a redemptive 60 minutes.
Instead, Midwestern State spoiled the Demons’ 2019 Turpin Stadium debut.
The Mustangs never allowed the Northwestern State offense to gain much of a foothold, and the Midwestern State defense limited the big play to hand the Demons a 33-7 defeat on Saturday night.
“You can’t give up big plays,” second-year head coach Brad Laird said. “You have to make them earn it. That starts with us as coaches to get fixed. This football team wasn’t prepared. That starts with me. Give Midwestern (State) credit. They played a great game. We didn’t play well in all three phases. We have to go back, starting Sunday morning, and look in the mirror to make sure we’re doing everything we can to be the best football team we can be.”
The Mustangs (1-0), ranked 20th in the AFCA Division II Preseason Top 25, built a 19-0 lead on a pair of Zach Purcell first-quarter touchdown passes and two Jaron Imbirani field goals before the NSU offense awakened.
Northwestern State (0-2) did not pick up its initial first down until the sixth drive of the game when quarterback Shelton Eppler hit Quan Shorts for an 11-yard gain on third-and-1.
That play energized the Demons offense, which traveled 75 yards on 12 plays for its lone score of the game, a 10-yard Jared West touchdown run, to slice the Mustangs’ lead to 19-7.
The Purple Swarm used that momentum to bury the Mustangs deep in their end and give the offense good field position and a shot at a late score.
However, DaMarcus Wilson jumped an out route and returned the interception 42 yards to the Northwestern State 32-yard line. After a pair of Purcell interceptions, the Mustangs came up with perhaps the biggest momentum play of the night.
Purcell floated a ball toward a gaggle of players in the front part of the end zone that Juwan Johnson hauled in among the crowd for a touchdown that returned the momentum to Midwestern State.
Much like the Aug. 29 season opener at UT Martin, the NSU defense buckled down and played solidly after an uneven start.
The Demons limited the Mustangs to 253 yards in the final three quarters and seven second-half points.
“If everyone does their jobs, we’ll be OK,” said senior safety Ryan Reed, who finished with four tackles and a pass breakup. “The coaches have great schemes, but we have to execute the schemes. We came out slow, and that’s what hurt us.”
Offensively, Northwestern State was unable to sustain drives, going a combined 5 for 20 on third- and fourth-down conversions. The Demons were outgained 425-243 by the Mustangs, who played turnover-free football on offense.
Northwestern State went 2 for 9 on third-down conversions in the second half, allowing Midwestern State to build a 33:35-26:25 advantage in time of possession.
“We’re trying to find our niche right now,” West said. “We need to go back to Day 1. This is a very humbling experience right now. We need to find out what we’re good at and build on those to become great.
“We’re not clicking on all cylinders right now. We have to go back to the drawing board and go from there.”