Turnovers, slow start too much for NSU to overcome in Homecoming loss to SEMO

NATCHITOCHES – At times, the Northwestern State football team has overcome its turnover struggles in 2022.

The Demons’ matchup Saturday against No. 16/18 Southeast Missouri State was not one of those days.

Northwestern State committed two first-quarter turnovers and SEMO recovered an onside kick in the stanza, allowing the Redhawks to build a big early lead and spoil NSU’s Homecoming with a 51-16 non-conference victory at Turpin Stadium.

“The unfortunate thing is I don’t think we gave ourselves the best opportunity to win,” fifth-year head coach Brad Laird said. “The way you do that is by doing everything you’re supposed to do throughout the week to prepare yourself to be successful. When your football team does not do that, these types of outcomes happen.

“It’s one thing to say we did everything we were supposed to do during the week, and we just got beat. The tough part about it is when you know you didn’t, and this is the outcome.”

While the Demons (3-5) were charged with two turnovers in the first half, the visiting Redhawks (6-1) created two additional first-half possessions in the kicking game and extended another on special teams.

After the Redhawks took a 13-3 lead on Geno Hess’ 29-yard touchdown run, SEMO recovered an onside kick at the NSU 36. Two plays later, Hess scooted in from 4 yards out to make it 20-3 with 6:33 to play in the first quarter.

It appeared the teams had settled into more of a defensive battle in the second quarter before the Redhawks used a fake punt on fourth-and-3 from the Demon 44 to extend what became an eight-play, 51-yard touchdown drive.

Upback Will Weidemann barreled his way through a tackle near the line of scrimmage and eventually rumbled 22 yards to the Demon 22. Three plays later, Paxton DeLaurent found Damoriea Vick for a 3-yard touchdown pass.

SEMO capped its first half of breaks by recovering a sky kick that was knocked down by the wind at the NSU 24-yard line. DeLaurent cashed in on that Demon miscue with a 12-yard touchdown pass to Johnny King with 1:41 to play in the half, building a 37-3 lead for the Redhawks.

“We had situations in all three phases that led to us being down the way we were at halftime,” Laird said. “We didn’t start fast. We turned the ball over. We weren’t able to create takeaways, and we had some issues on special teams. It was a complete team effort as far as not doing what we were supposed to do to win the game.”

SEMO put up 303 first-half yards en route to its 34-point lead at the break. Northwestern State gained 170 but saw its longest drive of the season in terms of plays go for naught.

Trailing by 20, the Demons traversed 62 yards in 17 plays, reaching the SEMO 13 before turning the ball over on downs.

NSU could have used the big-play offense it found in the third quarter on that drive.

The Demons gained 143 of their 409 yards in a two-play span in the quarter with both explosive plays turning into touchdowns.

Clement found running back Scooter Adams running free in the middle of the field for an 84-yard touchdown pass at the 10:10 mark of the third quarter, beginning a ping-ponging sequence of big plays.

SEMO answered Adams’ strike with Hess’ 54-yard run to cap a three-play drive before Clement and Ke’Nard King connected on a 59-yard touchdown pass with 8:49 to play in the third quarter.

Adams’ catch came in his return from a two-game absence and was his second scoring grab of at least 80 yards this season, adding to his 80-yarder against Lamar on Sept. 24.

“I suffered the same injury last year, and I was out of the rest of the season,” Adams said. “Just to be able to get out there with my brothers and play again, it’s all good. (My receiving ability) has always been there. The coaches are able to draw up plays and I execute.”

The Demons’ pair of big plays were far from enough to overcome a SEMO rushing attack that bulled its way to 418 of the Redhawks’ 619 total yards. Hess, who entered the game averaging 105 yards per game on the ground, led the way with 207 yards and became the first Demon opponent to rush for three touchdowns in a game since North Texas’ DeAndre Torrey in the 2021 season opener at North Texas.

“Luckily, this game counts as one, not 11,” Laird said. “The one thing about it is, it didn’t affect us in conference. We are in the same spot in conference we were before the game. That’s one positive I’ll take out of this game.”

The Demons will return to action Nov. 5 when they travel to Southland Conference newcomer Texas A&M-Commerce. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m.

Photo: Chris Reich/NSU Photographic Services