Slow start too tough for Demons to overcome at Southern Miss

HATTIESBURG, Mississippi – One of Northwestern State’s keys to Saturday night’s visit to Southern Miss was to try to win the field position battle.

The Demons were unable to do that, and the homestanding Golden Eagles took advantage.

A first-half scoring blitz, aided by excellent field position, put Southern Miss in the driver’s seat, and the Golden Eagles cruised to a 64-10 victory at M.M. Roberts Stadium.

“From the start, we couldn’t get anything going offensively,” said fifth-year head coach Brad Laird, whose team avoided its second shutout loss of the season on Eddie Godina’s 43-yard field goal in the third quarter.

“The first six drives, we had five punts and a turnover. Defensively, we held our own early and ended up giving up some big plays.”

The Golden Eagles (1-2) scored on their first three drives Saturday night, part of a first half in which their average starting field position was their 44-yard line.

Meanwhile, the Demons (0-3) took until the second half to awaken offensively.

Northwestern State needed until its ninth drive to pick up its initial first down of the game. By then, the Golden Eagles had built a 27-0 lead.

The Purple Swarm defense stood tall early in the first quarter, stiffening twice in the red zone to force Southern Miss to settle for a pair of Briggs Bourgeois field goals.

The run of big plays for the Southern Miss offense began on a 3rd-and-12 from the NSU 40 when Ty Keyes found Jakarius Caston for a 40-yard score that pushed the Golden Eagles’ lead to 13-0 less than 11 minutes into the game.

“We didn’t start fast,” Laird said. “We started slow, and it showed.”

Swayze Bozeman’s 12-yard fumble return touchdown 8 seconds into the second quarter marked the third non-offensive touchdown against the Demons this season and extended Southern Miss’ lead to 20.

Taking advantage of a return game that averaged 19.8 yards on nine punt returns, the Golden Eagles had a pair of touchdown drives that started in Demon territory to push the lead to 34 on Caston’s second scoring catch – a 7-yarder from Zach Wilcke.

Even when the Golden Eagles were backed up, they found a way to compensate.

Scotty Roblow’s eighth punt of the first half was fair caught at the Southern Miss 11. It took the Golden Eagles one play to reach the end zone as Jalen May took his first career catch 89 yards for a touchdown.

“A lot will be evaluated,” Laird said. “After the first three weeks, certain things offensively, defensively and special teams will be evaluated as we get ready for conference play.”

Seeing his most extensive action of the season, quarterback Zachary Clement led a pair of scoring drives for the Demons in the second half as the NSU passing game awakened.

A 50-yard catch-and-run by Travon Jones set up Godina’s 43-yard field goal with 3:51 to play in the third quarter.

Following Zay Franks’ 58-yard scoring catch, the Demons answered with a six-play, 55-yard scoring drive that culminated with Ke’Nard King’s first career touchdown catch.

King hauled in a 15-yard dart from Clement one play after Clement’s 2-yard touchdown run was negated by an illegal blindside block call in the end zone.

“(Quarterbacks) coach (Kyle) Washington and the guys in the room make sure we’re ready if the opportunity comes,” said Clement, who finished 16-for-33 for a career-high 214 yards and the touchdown pass to King. “(The second half) was positive for us to get some momentum and know we can move the ball. We know we can move the ball and make positive plays.”

The Demons return to action Sept. 24, facing Lamar in both the Southland Conference and the home openers for the Demons.

Photo: Bobby McDuffie/McDuffie Images