LAFAYETTE – Northwestern State’s Purple Swarm defense rediscovered its penchant for forcing turnovers in Saturday night’s season opener at UL Lafayette.
The Demons, however, were unable to truly capitalize on their extra opportunities as the homestanding Ragin’ Cajuns used three first-half, chunk-play touchdowns to set the tone for a 38-13 victory inside Cajun Field.
“First off, disappointed because we got on the bus to come down here and win a football game, and we didn’t,” sixth-year head coach Brad Laird said. “That’s on me. I’ve got to do a better job, but I’m really proud of how the guys fought. They fought for four quarters.”
After forcing only 11 turnovers in 11 games and ranking last in the FCS in turnover margin in 2022, the Demons (0-1) were plus-2 Saturday night, forcing three turnovers for the second time in their past three games.
All three turnovers – two fumbles and an interception – came in the first half. Despite two of those turnovers setting Northwestern State up in the red zone on back-to-back first-quarter drives, the Demons turned them into just three points.
Those points came off the left foot of kicker/punter Brett Money, whose 37-yard field goal came after Cam Hardy recovered a muffed punt at the Cajuns’ 14-yard line.
It was the first of two first-half field goals for Money, who added a 41-yarder in the second half. Those were part of a busy night for the sophomore transfer, who was called upon to punt a school-record-tying 11 times.
NSU’s new starting quarterback Tyler Vander Waal connected with Scooter Adams on a 47-yard touchdown pass with 2:01 remaining to account for the game’s final points.
The Cajuns (1-0) started the game quickly as Dre’lyn Washington broke free on a 62-yard touchdown run on the second play of their opening possession.
That set a tone for a first half in which the Purple Swarm defense endured an up-and-down 30 minutes.
Trailing 7-3, the Demons came up with a field-flipping turnover as Cadillac Rhone returned a Zylan Perry fumble 72 yards to the Cajuns’ 18-yard line.
“Around the 50-yard line, I was running on fumes, and that allowed the quarterback to catch me,” said Rhone, who secured his first career fumble recovery. “He had great hustle on the play. I saw the ball, picked it up and tried to take it to the crib.”
Penalties limited the Demons’ opportunity following Rhone’s return as NSU ultimately faced a third-and-30 on the drive before committing their lone turnover, a fumble on that third-down play.
While NSU could not deliver the big play, the Cajuns did multiple times. All five of their touchdowns covered at least 21 yards, and the Cajuns averaged 37.8 yards on their scoring plays.
The 190 yards on the scoring plays accounted for 44 percent of the Cajuns’ 429 yards.
“You look at big plays, they were able to convert some, but I thought we were able to hold our own,” Laird said. “We tackled well. We’ll go back and learn from a couple of times being out of position on those explosive plays. Overall, the guys took the game plan, executed it and gave us a chance.”
The Demons return to action at Louisiana Tech next Saturday evening at 6.