The Northwestern State football team has a chance to make amends Saturday night in its Southland Conference home opener against Southeastern Louisiana.
When the Demons and Lions kick off at 6:07 p.m. on Cox Sports Television (CST), it will mark the first time in 21 days for Northwestern State to enjoy playing at home. The last time the Demons took the field at Turpin Stadium, they left with a bitter taste in their collective mouths.
In addition to airing on CST, Saturday’s game can be heard on the Demon Sports Network, flagshipped by 94.9 FM The River in Natchitoches and including 710 AM KEEL in Shreveport and 105.5 KBKK in Alexandria.
“The last time we played here, there was some disappointment for the fans and the community,” second-year head coach Brad Laird said. “There’s nothing like playing here, so we’re looking for redemption on our part after playing three of the first four on the road and not having the best game the one time we played here.”
The Demons (0-4, 0-1) fell to Midwestern State, 33-7, in their home opener on Sept. 7.
They welcome a nationally ranked Southeastern Louisiana (2-1, 1-0) squad that scored an impressive season-opening win against preseason No. 6 Jacksonville State on Aug. 29 and started Southland Conference play with a 45-34 win against Lamar this past Saturday.
Those collective victories, sandwiched around a very competitive 40-29 loss at Ole Miss, shone through to Laird.
“You see a team that has consistently improved,” Laird said of the Lions, who are ranked No. 19 in the STATS FCS Poll and No. 22 in the FCS coaches poll. “The way they finished last year, you knew that really was not what you were going to get this year. They’re playing with a lot of confidence. That all starts with coach (Frank) Scelfo and the quarterback (Chason Virgil). He’s the ringleader for them.”
Virgil leads a Southeastern Louisiana offense that ranks third in the Southland Conference in scoring (36.3 points per game) and has tallied at least 29 points in all three outings this season. Virgil (145.7, 6th) and fellow quarterback Cole Kelley (204.2, 1st) give the Lions two of the top six passers in the conference in terms of quarterback rating.
While Virgil has manned the helm of the Lions offense for the better part of the past two seasons, the Lions’ defense got a boost on the sideline in the offseason when former McNeese head coach Lance Guidry joined Scelfo’s staff as the defensive coordinator.
Guidry’s presence has paid off as the Lions lead the Southland Conference and rank second nationally, averaging 4.67 tackles for loss per game.
“We’ve seen their scheme before, just at a different place,” Laird said. “He’s brought that same mentality to the defensive side of the ball. You see that in they play.”
As the Demons seek their first victory of the season, Laird said the team can draw off aspects of last week’s 48-21 loss at Houston Baptist.
Laird also drew on a historical perspective as he addressed his team earlier in the week.
“Two springs ago, we had our spring meeting heading into the spring semester on Martin Luther King Day,” Laird said. “I was thinking about that, and a lot of what he said hits home. It’s a great moment to reflect on it, because we’re going through some adversity right now. That won’t tell the tale of who we are.
“One thing Dr. King said was, ‘If you can’t fly then run; if you can’t run, then walk; if you can’t walk, then crawl; but keep moving forward.’ That’s that this team is going to do. He also said the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in time of comfort and convenience, but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy. I saw some guys in that room Sunday really take that to heart.”
Laird said following the loss to Houston Baptist he needed to look in the mirror. His team took his message and applied it to itself as well.
“Coming off a loss like that is not always easy,” said junior outside linebacker Kyle Moore, who became the first Demon in three seasons to record a full sack and an interception in the same game.
“One thing I saw was energy. We have some fight in us. At no point were we down on ourselves or gave up. We’re 0-4, and we’re tired of losing. I think a win against Southeastern would give us some confidence and get the ball rolling, start a snowball effect. If we get on a roll, we’ll be hard to stop.”