NSU rallies past Sam Houston

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ATCHITOCHES – Northwestern State overcame a 14-point deficit, taking its first lead
with 5:48 left after De’Mard Llorens’ 20-yard touchdown pass from Zach Adkins, and forced two fumbles in the final four minutes Saturday as the Demons rallied past No. 24 Sam Houston State 31-27, handing the Bearkats their first Southland Conference loss.

The Demons (4-3 overall, 2-1 in the Southland) recovered from a 21-7 Bearkats lead with 10:46 left in the first half, tying the game at 21. After a scoreless third period, Sam Houston (3-4, 2-1) was held to a pair of field goals after interceptions gave the Bearkats short fields, moving up 27-21 on Luc Swimberghe kicks of 41 and 23 yards.

After the second, short field goal, forced when WaDerrious Sellers broke up a third-down pass from the 5 in the end zone, NSU’s Ed Eagan brought the ensuing kickoff back 33 yards to the SHSU 48. Adkins converted two third downs with passes of 6 and 13 yards before looping a pass to Llorens, a sophomore running back, in the left corner of the end zone for the tying touchdown. Kicker Chris Moore added the extra point to nudge NSU ahead 28-27.

The Bearkats got passes of 22 and 13 yards to move into Demons’ territory, but NSU senior linebacker Tyler Roussel knocked the ball away from receiver LaDarius Brown at the Demons’ 30 and senior cornerback Imoan Claiborne scooped it up and returned it 28 yards to the SHSU 42 with 3:56 remaining.

NSU ground out two first downs before Moore, who had missed six straight field goals — including tries of 23 and 36 yards Saturday — following a 10-for-12 start to his season, split the uprights with 1:48 to go on a 30-yarder for a four-point margin.

On the first play after Moore’s kickoff sailed through the end zone, junior defensive end Leroy Armstrong stripped the ball away from Bearkats’ quarterback Jared Johnson at the SHSU 35 and junior safety Chase Collins recovered with 1:39 remaining. NSU kneeled on three plays to run out the clock, posting its first win in four tries over a nationally ranked FCS foe, dating back to a Nov. 2 home win last season over 15th-ranked Central Arkansas.

The Demons visit UCA next Saturday night before coming home Nov. 1 to play nationally ranked McNeese State.

For the third time this season, Adkins tied the single-game school record with four touchdown passes. He and Eagan connected on a 12-yarder in the first quarter for a 7-7 tie, then Tuff McClain turned a flanker screen into a 42-yard TD 2:35 before halftime. Adkins’ 26-yard throw to his roommate Bryant Mitchell capped a 57-yard, six-play drive as Demons converted Adam Jones’ third interception of the season into a tying score with 43 seconds left in the half.

The Bearkats used two long Keshawn Hill scoring runs, 66 and 74 yards, in the first quarter to bolt to a 14-7 advantage. It grew to 21-7 when Hill, who ran for 198 yards on 17 carries, notched his third TD on a 3-yarder 10:46 before halftime to wrap up a 12-play, 89-yard drive.

But the Demons’ Purple Swarm defense, despite losing NFL prospect defensive tackle Deon Simon to a leg injury in the second quarter, stiffened after halftime. Sam Houston managed only 97 second-half yards after 335 in the first two periods, as senior linebacker Marion Chapman had 11 tackles, Roussel 9, Jones 8 and Sellers 6 in the game.

“Our guys showed a lot of toughness hanging in there, coming back and winning the game,” said second-year Demons coach Jay Thomas, who celebrated his 54th birthday and his mother’s birthday Saturday. “We beat a good football team. (Defensive coordinator) Mike Lucas made some great adjustments during the game and at the half, and our kids did what we asked and played their hearts out.

“We know how to win close games. We have guys who are making plays with the game on the line,” said Thomas, “and we had a bunch of those today. Zach and the offense got it done and had a great day overall, and the defense was tremendous especially coming down the stretch protecting the lead.”

The Demons outgained the Bearkats 482-432, getting 186 yards rushing by five ballcarriers, led by Garrett Atzenweiler with 68 on 18 carries. Adkins was 22-of-35 for 296 yards, using seven receivers, topped by Eagan with six catches for 47 yards and McClain with his first career 100-yard game, 102 on five catches.

It was NSU’s second fourth-period comeback for a win. The Demons were down 27-17 with 8:35 to go Sept. 20 at Louisiana Tech, but scored three times while forcing two turnovers in the waning minutes for a 30-27 triumph.

With the Jones interception and the fumble recoveries by Claiborne and Collins, the Purple Swarm raised its season turnover total to 22 takeaways. NSU was second nationally with 19 entering the game.

— Northwestern State Sports Information