BEAUMONT, Texas – In a see-saw battle of momentum Saturday afternoon, the Northwestern State football team found itself at the low end of the fulcrum.
The Demons methodically battled back from a couple of early deficits in their Southland Conference opener at Lamar, falling to the Cardinals 27-13.
“It’s disappointing, starting with me,” sixth-year head coach Brad Laird said. “To fight back and get it to 13-13, we just couldn’t sustain any opportunities. We would score to get the momentum, and twice they bounced back. One was a kick return score and then when we tied it at 13, they go on a 75-yard drive to go up 20-13.”
The Cardinals’ final go-ahead score – their third of the game – came on a play where Northwestern State (0-5, 0-1) did what it has preached doing throughout the season. As Andre Dennis broke free down the middle of the field, NSU cornerback Anthony Richard Jr. chased him down and stripped the ball at the 5-yard line. The ball rolled into the end zone where Lamar’s Kyndon Fuselier fell on it for a tie-breaking touchdown to put the Cardinals (3-3, 2-0) ahead for good.
Fuselier’s hustling score came after two-plus quarters of shutout ball from the NSU defense, who allowed a 13-play, 75-yard touchdown march on the opening drive before settling in.
“We had to get our composure and calm down,” said junior defensive tackle Donovan Green, who had five tackles, a sack and a blocked extra point. “We weren’t steady at first. We had to get in our groove. After that first drive, we got warm and got our energy going.”
Following the Cardinals’ opening drive, the Demons limited Lamar to 190 yards in the final 53-plus minutes of the game.
Green’s blocked extra point following Demashja Harris’ 95-yard kick return score was one of two blocks for the Demons on Saturday. The first – Ke’Nard King’s blocked punt on the first play of the second quarter – set up the Demons’ lone touchdown as Chance Newman powered in from 1 yard out to tie the game at 7 with 11:17 to play in the first half.
The eight-play drive was one of five eight-or-more play drives for Northwestern State.
The Demons, however, managed just 10 points on those drives. An end-zone interception and a missed field goal scuttled two of them while Northwestern State was forced to punt on its other eight-play march.
“We’ve got to execute in all areas,” Newman said. “We’ve got to eliminate turnovers, and we have to keep executing. That’s something we couldn’t get going in the second half.”
While the Demons did not always finish drives in the end zone, sophomore kicker Brett Money allowed NSU to pull even with a pair of third-quarter field goals of 48 and 45 yards. The second came after the Demons started at the Lamar 29 but managed just one yard before Money’s 45-yarder tied things at 13 – the second tie of the game.
“It was good to see a 45- and a 48-yard field goal,” Laird said. “Thinking late in fourth quarter, we’d kick another and get a touchdown to win it. It didn’t work out that way. We’ve got to finish with touchdowns. We’ve got to get sevens on the board.”
Down 20-13, Money was wide left on a 32-yard field goal into the wind, but the NSU defense forced a three-and-out. The NSU offense also went three and out before a low punt snap led to a dead ball with Lamar taking over at the Demon 15-yard line.
“Special teams changes the momentum of a game,” Green said. “You talk about any level of football, the biggest things that change games are special teams plays. That’s how teams are able to capitalize.”
The Demons cap back-to-back Southland Conference road trips by playing at Nicholls next Saturday. Kickoff is set for 3 p.m.