NATCHITOCHES – The Northwestern State football team may have waited 471 days between its final 2019 game and the start of this spring season, but the Demons have a much, much shorter turnaround time for their next game.
Four days after playing at Lamar, NSU (0-4, 0-4 Southland) will play its home finale Thursday when No. 5 Sam Houston (3-0, 3-0 SLC) visits for a 6 p.m. kick.
“For the coaches, (the quick turnaround) expedites the week as far as what we want to get accomplished,” said NSU coach Brad Laird. “The players have a physical and mental part to it.
“Saturday’s game against Lamar was physical, so you have to get your body where it needs to be. Then you have to implement a game plan during a short week. But we knew this was coming, and our guys will be ready to play. I guarantee you we want to be playing instead of practicing right now.”
Free parking and discounted tickets are in NSU fans’ Easter baskets this week. Youth tickets can be purchased for $5, general admission for $10 and chairback for $20. As part of NSU’s annual Faculty/Staff Appreciation Day, all employees can receive two free tickets.
The game will also be broadcast on ESPN+ and on the Demon Sports Radio Network (94.9 FM The River).
SHSU will be coming off a 12-day period after a bye week followed a 62-7 win against Lamar.
NSU was originally scheduled to have a bye week as well before an ice storm moved the season-opener at Lamar to that open week.
“We could have complained all week (about the short week) or step up to the plate and get done what we have to do,” said senior tight end David Fitzwater. “This team has done that and handled it pretty well. We’re ready to play.”
NSU won the last meeting in this competitive series (tied 21-21) when the Demons intercepted Sam Houston four times en route to a 31-28 win in Huntsville in 2019.
This past week, the Demons nearly climbed out of a 28-point hole at Lamar this past week, falling 31-23 in Beaumont, Texas.
The running game re-emerged as junior Scooter Adams gained 212 yards, the first 200-yard rusher at NSU since De’Mard Llorens did it in 2016 (also against Lamar).
The Demons have surpassed the 200-yard rushing mark in three of their four games this season, but they’ll face a Bearkat defense that excels against the run (73 yards allowed per game).
“A lot of things have led us to being a better rushing team,” Fitzwater said. “We’re very physical up front in the offensive line and tight ends, and we’re doing a great job of moving people and being more physical than in the past.
“Our running backs are trusting the holes and hitting them. The long offseason has helped the offensive line gel and get everybody on the same page. We’re clean and sharp up front.”
Laird is looking for the Demons to put together solid performances in all three phases, something he says makes Sam Houston one of the best teams in the nation.
An NSU squad that typically starts quickly and protects the ball turned it over three times in the first 18 minutes at Lamar.
Add in a blocked punt for a touchdown, and the Demons found themselves in that 28-point hole.
Lamar converted just 6-of-17 on third down, but the Cardinals’ have five conversions in the first quarter (four on third-down distances of 10 yards or longer) to stockpile 21 early offensive points.
“It’s good that we got the running game going after not being good the week before,” Laird said. “But we’ve got to put it all together for 60 minutes.
“We have to make crucial throws throughout the game. We made some crucial mental mistakes defensively on third down. We dug ourselves further in the hole with the blocked punt for a touchdown, and you just can’t do that against any team in this league. But the guys continue to fight for 60 minutes, and we gave ourselves a chance there at the end.”
NSU scored 23 of the final 26 points, including holding Lamar to 331 yards, a season-low for the Demons defense.
“We’re coming together really well, but we’re that close to playing even better,” said senior safety Kyle Moore. “There are three or four plays each game that have gone wrong – otherwise we’re holding teams to one or two scores.
“It’s crucial that we see this group strive in the spring because I think both the offense and defense can find a groove and think that, ‘Hey, we can do this.’ Defensively, we need to keep making plays, and we can figure out that we are good and we can be one of the conference’s best.”
The unit will be tested by a Bearkat offense that leads the nation with nearly 59 points per game this season.
Receiver Jequez Ezzard leads the nation with 122 receiving yards per game while quarterback Eric Schmid is the nation’s most efficient passer (185.7).
PHOTO CREDIT: Sean McGraw/NSU Photographic Services