COMMERCE, Texas – In a game where a Northwestern State offensive record fell, it was the Purple Swarm defense’s performance that set the tone.
The Demons pitched a second-half shutout and utilized a career-high four touchdowns from quarterback Zachary Clement to roll to a 41-14 victory at Southland Conference newcomer Texas A&M-Commerce.
The win helped the Demons (4-5, 4-0) extend their best start to a Southland season since 1988 when NSU swept a six-game league slate. Northwestern State, the only unbeaten team in conference play, holds a half-game lead over UIW and a one-game lead over Southeastern with two weeks remaining.
NSU travels to Southeastern on Nov. 12 and wraps up the regular season by hosting UIW on Nov. 19.
“Defensively, from start to finish – you take away one maybe one play really – those guys played and prepared well throughout the week,” fifth-year head coach Brad Laird said. “It was a complete game in all three phases by this football team for 60 minutes. To be able to get the start we had offensively, be able to win the field-position game early, our guys put us in good situations.”
Northwestern State put the home standing Lions (5-4, 3-2) in a 14-point hole less than 12 minutes into the game, scoring touchdowns on consecutive nine-play drives that covered more than 80 yards each.
Kennieth Lacy capped the first with an 8-yard touchdown run before Javon Antonio laid out to haul in a 33-yard touchdown pass from Clement to double the Demon lead with 3:28 to play in the opening quarter.
The Lions responded with their only extended run of success against a Demon defense that limited A&M-Commerce to 243 yards, 147 yards below the Lions’ season average.
Texas A&M-Commerce, which leads the Southland Conference in interceptions, got a tipped-ball pick off a Clement screen pass at the Demon 28 and tied the game two plays later.
That was enough to awaken both sides of the ball for Northwestern State, which kicked off a game-closing 27-0 run with an 11-play, 71-yard scoring drive that culminated in Jaheim Walters’ first career touchdown grab – a 6-yard bullet from Clement.
“That was big,” said wide receiver Zach Patterson, who established a new NSU single-game record with 15 receptions. “We felt like we needed to come back out and get to where we were, get back to rolling on the game plan we had.”
Patterson helped keep the Demons rolling in the second half, matching Antonio’s sliding grab with a toe-tapping layout grab of a 22-yard Clement toss to extend NSU’s lead to 28-14 with 10:48 to play in the third quarter.
“We compete each and every week,” Patterson said of the NSU receiver room. “It starts in practice, and we go out and make plays on the field.”
The Purple Swarm, meanwhile, kept the Lions’ high-powered offense from making many plays in the final 44 minutes of the game.
NSU held the Lions to 96 yards rushing, marking the second time the Demons have kept an opponent shy of the 100-yard mark this season.
The Demons also collected three sacks, one shy of tying its season high.
“We just kept a good pace and believed in each other, knowing we were going to go out and do our jobs, be in the right place and make plays,” said linebacker Josh Clarke, who notched a pair of sacks. “Before the game, we talked about the skill set we impact on the offense in order to make plays.”
While Patterson established a new standard for catches in a game, arguably no one made as many plays Saturday as senior safety PJ Herrington.
Herrington notched four tackles, a pair of pass breakups, a sack and a pair of punt returns for 14 yards.
For good measure, Herrington added a 38-yard interception return for a touchdown, becoming the first Demon to record a pick-six since teammate Shemar Bartholomew did at Sam Houston on Nov. 16, 2019.
“I’ve had big games where I made a lot of plays, but this is probably the most complete I’ve played,” Herrington said. “(The touchdown) was a long time coming. I’ve done a lot of dirty work. I’ve been late on a couple of routes and broke them up, but it feels good to get that pick-six.”
The Demons return to action next Saturday, facing Southeastern in NSU’s 2022 road finale. Kickoff is set for 4 p.m. at Strawberry Stadium.
Credit: Chris Reich/NSU Photographic Services