NATCHITOCHES – Had the Northwestern State football team played a regularly scheduled fall season, wide receiver Kendrick Price Jr. would have been physically unable to participate and defensive lineman Isaiah Longino likely would not have been 100 percent.
Instead, the two veterans were the leading playmakers Saturday at Turpin Stadium during the second scrimmage of spring camp.
Price, a senior from Lindale, Texas, and Longino, a junior from Houston, both are working their way back from ACL injuries suffered several months apart. Longino tore his ligament in the 2019 season opener at UT Martin while Price was injured during spring practice in 2020.
“You look at where we are – we’re close to 15 months from this football team playing a game,” third-year head coach Brad Laird said. “You talk about Isaiah Longino, add four more months to that. That’s almost two years. To see where he has come from at that particular time – I’ll never forget that kickoff – to where he is now, a totally different position, you see the impact he’s having. That’s what this football team is going to be about – guys taking advantage of their opportunity and doing what they’re asked by changing positions, by doing different things.”
In the midst of transitioning from linebacker to defensive line, Longino had an impactful performance Saturday, recording three sacks and a pass breakup as the Purple Swarm started quickly.
Longino wasn’t the only Demon who found his way into the backfield as freshman Princeton Malbrue added three sacks as well.
“The D-line takes pride in putting the defense on our back,” Longino said. “We want to set the tone, bring the energy, make the plays. Our job is to start the defense up. We have a friendly competition. If I get a sack, I’m looking at Darius (Whitfield). I’m looking at DT (Damian Thompson) saying, ‘What’s up? What’s good?’ Let’s go make the plays and win the game.”
Six days after forcing five turnovers, the Purple Swarm did not record one Saturday, but it was an effective group, especially early in the nearly two-hour scrimmage.
The offense and defense split their goal-line situations to start the afternoon as Cayden Dunn scored on the first possession before the offense had to settle for a 23-yard Daniel Justino field goal.
Once into the normal game flow portion of the scrimmage, the defense started by forcing three straight three-and-outs.
After those three series, it was Price who opened things up for the Demon offense, hauling in a 40-yard pass from Bryce Rivers on the first play of the fourth series.
Three plays later, Rivers found Javon Antonio for a 20-yard touchdown.
For Price, his five-catch, 82-yard performance Saturday was reminiscent of the final three games of the 2019 season when he hauled in 14 passes for 230 yards and four touchdowns.
“It’s been a long process,” Price said. “Anyone who has gone through this injury knows that. Being able to come out and make plays and spark the offense is a great feeling. It’s been a long road, and I’m glad I’ve made this progress.”
Although they were on opposite sidelines Saturday, Price and Longino have been side-by-side working their way back onto the field.
“K.P. is one of my closest friends,” Longino said. “We’ve talked about our injuries and have goals for each other. I was extremely proud of him today – how he ran his routes. His technique is getting back, and his speed is, too.”
Said Price: “It’s a privilege to have guys like Gino and Gavin Landry, who have gone through this injury. We’re real close. We talk to each other about progress. It’s nice to get first-hand advice. You have someone who has gone through it and is on the same path is really encouraging.”
Both sides had something to be encouraged by at the end of one half of the scrimmage.
Laird had the offense run a two-minute drill ahead of “halftime” Saturday and then again to end the scrimmage.
The Purple Swarm won the first one before the offense finished the scrimmage by traversing 62 yards in 1:21, capping the drive with a 12-yard touchdown from Kaleb Fletcher to David Fitzwater as time expired.
“We hit the situations we wanted to,” Laird said. “Two of those were the two-minute drill before the half and at the end of the game when the offense needed a touchdown to win. It was good to see Fletcher hit Fitzwater, but we can take from that one or two plays from that seven- or eight-play drive that could change the outcome. We came away with good things we can coach from and learn from as players.”
Cayden Dunn 4 run (Eddie Godina kick)
Daniel Justino 23 field goal
Javon Antonio 20 pass from Bryce Rivers (Godina kick)
Justino 40 FG
Godina 28 FG
Justino 34 FG
David Fitzwater 12 pass from Kaleb Fletcher (No PAT attempted)
RUSHING (40-47, 1 TD) – Aubrey Scott 10-47; Dunn 4-9, 1 TD; Curtis Williams 5-16; Trevor Morgan 2-12; Erik Hart 5-7; Kendrick Price 1-4; Rivers 3-(-5); Zachary Clement 5-(-16); Fletcher 5-(-27)
PASSING (28-42-0, 266, 2 TD) – Fletcher 13-17-0 110, 1 TD; Rivers 4-7-0 82 1 TD; Clement 11-18-0 74.
RECEIVING – Price 5-82; LC Greenwood 4-37; Coby McGee 4-34; Williams 3-31; Trevor Morgan 3-20; Antonio 2-20, 1 TD; Marquise Bridges 2-18; Scott 2-0; Fitzwater 1-12, 1 TD; Caleb Laboy 1-12; Aaron Howell 1-0.
Jomard Valsin Jr 4 tackles, 3 TFL, 1 sack; Darius Whitfield 3 tackles, 1 FF, 1 TFL; Isaiah Longino 2 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 PBU; Princeton Malbrue 2 tackles, 3 sacks Johnathan Daigle 2 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 QB hurry; Dante Thomas 1 tackle, 3 PBU; Race Moser 3 tackles, 1 TFL; Bishop Breaux 2 TFL, 1 PBU; Kevin Davis Jr. 2 tackles, 1 sack; Shemar Bartholomew 2 tackles, 1 PBU; Keenan Leachman 3 tackles; JaBralen Yarber 2 tackles; Damian Thompson 2 tackles; PJ Herrington 2 tackles; Keshawn Jackson 2 tackles; Kunta Hester Jr. 2 tackles; Donovan Green 2 tackles; Jared Pedraza 1 sack; John-Alex Perkins 1 sack; Nick Allen 1 sack; Trey Williams 1 sack; Donovan Green 1 TFL; Josh Clarke 1 tackle; Nathalohn Nanai 1 tackle; Malik Williams 1 tackle; Tobias Williams II 1 tackle; Cedric Anderson 1 tackle; Waylon Washington 1 tackle; Ray Johnson Jr. 1 tackle; Jalen Garrison 1 tackle.
Photo: Isaiah Longino bats down a pass during Saturday’s scrimmage. Credit: Chris Reich/NSU Photographic Services