Calm Clement’s comebacks part of his football DNA

Zachary Clement has been part of the Northwestern State football program since August 2019, but it can be argued he arrived as a Demon more than two years later.

On a Saturday night in Houston more than two years after becoming a Demon, Clement delivered a game-winning, fourth-quarter drive in a victory at Houston Christian that snapped Northwestern State’s season-opening, four-game losing streak.

It also acted as a harbinger of what was to come for the Demons’ now sophomore quarterback, who has led Northwestern State to double-digit comebacks in two of the past three weeks.

“For me, I have a never-die attitude,” said Clement, a fourth-year sophomore from Lafayette Christian Academy. “Until the clock hits zero, I’m going to play and do what’s asked of me. As a team, we stick together. That’s all we can ask for – to fight and finish the game.”

When the Demons return to Husky Stadium for Saturday’s 6 p.m. matchup with HCU, it will be a return to where things truly started for Clement, who has put together three straight games of at least 300 passing yards.

Clement started four of NSU’s final five games a season ago, leading the Demons to a 2-2 mark in those games. He is 2-1 in three starts in 2022, helping NSU overcome an early 10-point deficit against Lamar on Sept. 24 before erasing a 12-point, fourth-quarter hole against Nicholls on Oct. 1.

“He has made some big plays in tough situations, big plays in big situations,” fifth-year head coach and former NSU quarterback Brad Laird said. “I always look at what quarterbacks do on third down. Those are big, pivotal moments. His ability to make plays whether with his arm or legs is big. You’ve seen him on fourth downs when his back’s against the wall come out and make big plays.

“It’s just what he does. He’s a winner. We’ll ride his coattails and fight with him.”

Clement came to Natchitoches with a pair of state championships from his time at Lafayette Christian, cementing his status as a winner.

He has remained persistent at NSU, working his way into the lineup each of the past three seasons despite not being the opening-day starting quarterback.

In Clement’s three starts, the Demons have converted third downs at nearly a 50 percent clip (27-for-55) and have been successful on six of 10 fourth-down tries.

That ability to stack first down on top of first down assisted the Demons in their two come-from-behind victories while showcasing Clement’s knack for delivering in key moments.

Trailing by five against Nicholls, the Demons faced a fourth-and-10 at the Colonel 41-yard line. Facing pressure from the defensive end, Clement lofted a pass off his back foot that Ke’Nard King made a diving catch of at the Nicholls’ 22.

Four plays later, Clement connected with Javon Antonio on a game-winning, 3-yard touchdown pass that propelled the Demons to their first 2-0 Southland Conference start since 2005.

It gave Clement the second fourth-quarter comeback of his career – a total he nearly added to a week ago at Eastern Illinois. Down by 28 at halftime, Clement and the Demons pulled within eight and had the ball with less than a minute to go but could not complete the comeback.

“We had built a lot of momentum going into the final drive,” he said. “We were definitely excited to get another shot.”

Though Clement and his teammates could not finish that rally, the one they began a year ago in Houston sticks with the NSU quarterback.

“It was a big confidence boost,” Clement said. “Sitting on the bench for a while, then coming in and being able to contribute to a victory boosts your confidence for whatever situation you’re in.”

The same can be said for how Clement was reared.

“My dad taught me to stick it out and work your butt off until the job is done or the clock hits zero,” he said. “It’s not done until then.”

With Clement at the helm, the Demons have built confidence in their comeback abilities.

As emotional and electric as the Oct. 1 win against Nicholls was and as much as Laird enjoys watching Clement in pressure-packed situations, he could stand a little less drama.

“(The 2021 win at HCU) was the start of seeing what Zach’s forte is and what he has the ability to do,” Laird said. “Different quarterbacks have their things they’re known for and what they showcase. One of Zach’s is his ability to come from being.

“That said, we look forward to seeing how he is when we’re ahead.”

PHOTO: Chris Reich/NSU Photographic Services