Javon Antonio wasn’t sure he was living the moment or if he was in a dream Saturday evening.
With his Northwestern State football team down 12 to Nicholls with 3:17 to play, Antonio and the Demon offense shook off a sluggish second half with aplomb.
Antonio hauled in a pair of touchdowns – the last with 9 seconds to play – and a 2-point conversion in the final 217 seconds, lifting Northwestern State to a wild 36-33 Southland Conference victory against Nicholls at Turpin Stadium.
“After I caught that touchdown, I thought of Jazz Ferguson and the McNeese game (in 2018),” Antonio said. “I was like, ‘Wow, I’m really living this moment right now.’ That was really exciting. I looked at the crowd and the coaches. When I looked at (head) coach (Brad) Laird, that’s what really turned me up.”
Antonio’s grab on a 3-yard dart from quarterback Zachary Clement and the ensuing 2-point grab helped the Demons (2-3, 2—0) win their second straight game and produce the first 2-0 start in Southland Conference play since 2005.
Antonio’s first touchdown catch – a 27-yarder – pulled the Demons within five with 1:34 to play, leading to Northwestern State’s first onside kick attempt of the season.
Fittingly, it was another Demon receiver who came away with the ball as Zach Patterson tipped the ball to himself and gave Northwestern State one final hurrah.
“We had moved the ball the drive before and we came out with the onside, I knew we had to make a play and win the game,” Patterson said. “We really push each other every day to see who can make the best plays. Whoever gets their hands on the ball, we have to make a play, each and every one of us.”
The list of Demons who made those plays Saturday was a lengthy one, especially in the final two drives of the game where Northwestern State ran 19 plays for 120 yards and tallied 15 points.
In addition to Antonio and Patterson, Ke’Nard King put his name in the ring for the biggest catch of the night.
On the Demons’ final drive, King was unable to snare a catch on a second-and-10 pass. Two plays later, he made up for it, working his way back to make a sliding grab of a pass Clement found a way to get rid of while under duress.
King’s 19-yard grab extended the drive and kept the Demons’ chances to stop a six-game slide to Nicholls (0-5, 0-1) alive.
“I have faith in all of our receivers,” said Clement, who finished 25-for-50 for 327 yards and his third career three-touchdown pass game. “It’s a special receiver room. I know if I put it out there, we have a really good chance. They picked me up and made me look good.”
Things looked bleak for the Demons when Julien Gums broke a 33-yard touchdown run with 3:17 to play. However, Nicholls’ failure on the 2-point conversion left enough room for Clement and the Demons to take advantage.
“To be on the sideline and watch these young men stay the course and kept fighting, kept believing and kept playing, 100 percent credit to their resiliency,” fifth-year head coach Brad Laird said. “We found a way. We had enough time there at the end to be able to not only get the touchdown but then convert the 2-point play and get (defensive coordinator Weston) Glaser’s jumper team out there with Travon (Jones) and Javon.
“It was great for our guys to do something that hasn’t been done since 2005.”
Despite the offense’s heroics, Nicholls had one last-gasp chance to spoil the back side of Northwestern State’s two-game homestand.
Two 15-yard penalties against Northwestern State following the 2-point conversion pushed the kickoff back to the Demon 10-yard line, giving Nicholls good field position.
Kohen Granier found Al’Dontre Davis for 19 yards to reach the Northwestern State 42 before an illegal substitution penalty nullified the potential game-ending stop.
With Glaser’s jumper team – designed to negate Hail Mary plays – on the field, Jones outjumped several players in the end zone to come down with his first interception since playing peewee football in Atlanta.
Antonio, who finished with 132 yards on nine catches to produce his fifth 100-yard receiving performance in 10 career games at Northwestern State, was happy to let his fellow jumper seal the victory.
“I was too happy,” Antonio said. “I was too tired. I said, ‘He’s 6-6. I’m 6-4. He’s gotta get it.’ I told him the play before, ‘It’s coming to you.’ He looked at me and said, ‘I got you Von.’”
The Demons return to action Oct. 8 when they begin a two-game road trip with a visit to Eastern Illinois. Kickoff for that game is set for 2 p.m.
Photo: Chris Reich/NSU Photographic Services