NSU Assistant Director of Communications
NATCHITOCHES – Sophomore quarterback Kaleb Fletcher won’t have a start in Saturday’s box score, but he’ll get credit for the finish.
Fletcher, who didn’t make his first career start because of a violation of team rules, threw three touchdown passes in the final 19 minutes to erase an 18-point deficit in a 31-28 win against Houston Baptist.
NSU snapped a four-game losing streak behind 320 offensive yards from Fletcher, who threw for 253 yards on 30-of-44 passing and rushed for an additional 67 yards.
“We felt absolutely no pressure in the second half, we knew we had lots of time,” Fletcher said. “We knew the defense would give us chances, it was just a matter of getting it done.
“This win means everything to me, and this team never gave up. There were down faces on the sideline, I just had to lead this team to a win.”
Fletcher took over in the third series and had some bright spots in the first half, but the final one-and-a-half quarters is when the NSU offense kicked into overdrive.
HBU (1-7, 0-6 SLC), whose losing streak stretched to seven games, appeared in control when quarterback Bailey Zappe accounted for his fourth touchdown for a 28-10 edge with 7:31 left in the third quarter.
But Fletcher responded with a 62-yard scoring drive ending in an 11-yard touchdown pass to Jaylen Watson.
Watson had his first career multi-touchdown game, finishing with season-highs of six catches and 96 yards.
“When you look at the number of snaps he’s had against good competition, he’s just getting better every snap,” said NSU coach Brad Laird, who’s noted that Fletcher hasn’t gotten many practice repetitions this season as the third-string quarterback. “We didn’t change anything at halftime, we just came back and made plays in the second half.
“Credit (defensive coordinator Mike Lucas) as the defense put more pressure on (Zappe). This team is going to fight no matter what, and I couldn’t be more proud of how the players got it done tonight.”
The fourth quarter belonged to Jazz Ferguson, who had both of his receiving touchdowns and more than half of his eight catches for 90 yards in the fourth quarter.
Ferguson caught touchdown passes for 13 yards and two yards, the first at the 9:34 mark as NSU cut HBU’s edge to 28-23.
The NSU defense created momentum before Ferguson’s touchdown as sophomore tackle Damian Thompson stuffed Zappe on a fourth-and-one.
Sophomore cornerback Malik Sonnier intercepted Zappe after NSU’s score, setting up Ferguson’s second touchdown with 4:12 to play. Sonnier forced a fumble in the first quarter to contribute to two of NSU’s three turnovers.
NSU went ahead 31-28 on a two-point conversion to Ferguson, whose school record five straight 100-yard receiving games came to an end but who had his third multi-touchdown game of the season.
Ferguson moved up to third on the NSU all-time single season receiving charts with 852 yards and eight touchdowns.
The Demons defense forced three turnovers to pair with one turnover on downs, holding the HBU offense under 200 yards in the second half after the Huskies racked up 306 in the first half.
Fletcher put the exclamation point on the win by barreling ahead on a third-down and three, getting the first down to allow NSU to run out the clock.
“I was extremely comfortable out there tonight, and getting extra reps in practice after playing most of the (UCA) game certainly helped,” Fletcher said.
NSU starting quarterback Kenny Sears got the homecoming crowd of 7,098 rocking early with an opening touchdown, a 51-yard strike to Watson.
Sears played the first two series before giving way to Fletcher, throwing for 66 yards on 4-of-5 passing and his first career touchdown.
“Kenny set the tone for us in that first series, and we talked to both of the quarterbacks about the number of series they’d get,” Laird said. “What nobody saw tonight was the way Sears stayed involved in the game from the sidelines. He helped us win tonight.”
The Huskies scored 28 of the next 31 points on the arm and legs of Zappe, who threw for three touchdowns and 251 yards while adding 132 rushing yards and another score.
NSU’s rushing game balanced its passing game as running backs Jared West (76 yards) and Stadford Anderson (46 yards).
The Demons sacked Zappe four times by four different rushers.
Freshman Jomard Valsin, Jr., accounted for one of those sacks as part of six tackles and one forced fumble.
“I’ve had to transition to the college game in which players are bigger and faster,” said the Port Arthur, Texas, native. “But thanks to God, the coaches and the players, I’ve been able to make that transition and make plays on defense and special teams.”
Senior offensive guard Chris Zirkle made his first start of the season after battling a shoulder injury suffered during this past season. The new redshirt rule allows players to compete in up to four games without losing a season of eligibility, so Zirkle will return for a fifth season in 2019.
Junior defensive lineman Christian Bluiett also saw his first action in a similar situation, although he didn’t record a tackle.
NSU heads to Abilene Christian with three games left in the regular season.