By Matt Vines, Northwestern State Assistant Director of Communications
HAMMOND – After a clawing out of a hole in a one-score loss against No. 7 Nicholls in the season opener, Northwestern State found itself in the opposite role at No. 18 Southeastern on Saturday.
The Demons led most of the game and didn’t trail for all but two seconds.
But those were the final two seconds as the Lions blocked their third field goal of the game and turned it into a game-winning field goal of their own in a heart-breaking 27-24 NSU loss to the Lions (2-1, 2-1 SLC).
The Demons (0-2, 0-2 Southland Conference) marched themselves into field goal position when quarterback Kaleb Fletcher connected with Scooter Adams on 38-yard strike.
NSU lined up for a 43-yard field goal with 39 seconds remaining, which was blocked by Ferlando Jordan, his second blocked field goal of the night.
The Lions returned the block to the 47-yard line, and quarterback Cole Kelley completed passes of 18 and 26 yards to set up the game-winner by Mateo Rengifo.
“When you look at the scoreboard, it’s not what you want when you put the ball on the tee,” said Laird, whose Demons have lost by a combined 10 points to ranked teams to start the spring. “We did look at improvement from Week 1 to Week 2, and we saw that in all three phases.
“It’s disappointing for the guys for as hard as they worked this week to get into the position we were at end of game – it’s tough. But the message to the team is that every Saturday we have an opportunity, and for 471 days, that opportunity was taken away from us. As we approach each Saturday, we don’t want to take it for granted. We’ll continue to learn as coaches and players to move forward and get ready for McNeese next Saturday.”
After an SLU score early in the third quarter tied the game at 14-14, NSU tallied the next 10 points and seemed to retake control of the game.
The Demons forced their second fumble when Malik Williams jarred the ball loose and P.J. Herrington recovered at SLU’s 25-yard line.
“We feed off turnovers, what we preach,” said Herrington, who had five tackles and two pass breakups. “We make big plays and have a short memory. We give up plays, but we have to come back and make a play. We did make plays, but we’ll get better too.
“We have to keep fighting — tough loss today. I hate to see us play so hard and take a loss, but we have to get back on board and get ready for McNeese (at home).”
NSU pulled a trick play out on the next snap as Gavin Landry tossed a 25-yard pass to Aubrey Scott to regain the edge at 21-14 midway through the third quarter. Scott pitched the ball to a sprinting Landry out of his slot position, and Landry turned and tossed the ball back to Scott.
Landry didn’t reach the end zone Saturday, but the game marked his fourth straight in which he contributed to a touchdown dating back to the Central Arkansas contest in 2019. He caught touchdown passes in the previous three games.
After Scott topped the 100-yard rushing mark in the opener, Adams reached that mark exactly Saturday on 19 carries. Adams totaled 138 yards with his 38-yard catch, and Scott added 68 rushing and 28 receiving (97 total).
Kicker Eddie Godina made an NSU career-long field goal of 47 yards at the beginning of the fourth quarter to hand the Demons a 24-14 edge early in the fourth quarter.
But the Lions rallied, scoring a touchdown on an 83-yard drive and adding a Rengifo field goal with 3:33 left to even the score back at 24-24.
SLU’s offense totaled 477 yards with Kelley gaining 338 through the air with a touchdown and an interception.
In the first quarter, safety Josh Landrum ripped an interception away from an SLU, and NSU drove 99 yards on 15 plays to take a 14-0 lead.
Fletcher completed two big passes on the drive, a 14-yarder to Landry at the beginning of the drive and a 29-yarder into double coverage to Jacob Logan to reach the red zone.
Adams capped the long drive with a 2-yard touchdown run.
Special teams set up NSU’s opening score as Donovan Duvernay busted a 79-yard kick return to set up shop at the SLU 14-yard line.
NSU capitalized on four plays as quarterback Bryce Rivers punches in a 1-yard run after Fletcher started the drive under center.
The Demons passing attack improved in its second game, compiling 173 yards after throwing for 67 yards in the opener.
Fletcher threw for 96 yards on 7-of-15 passing and an interception.
NSU used its quarterbacks in the running game as well (Fletcher 59 yards and Zachary Clement 21 yards).
Leading 14-7 late in the first half, NSU had a chance to widen the gap, but the drive ended on a blocked 22-yard field goal.
Before the field goal attempt, Clement scrambled toward the pylon with the clock winding down, diving to the one-yard line as time expired. Officials put one second back on the clock, and Rivers went under center to attempt another goal line run play. He reached the end zone, but officials wiped the play out because of an illegal substitution.
The Demons return to Turpin Stadium to host McNeese on Saturday at 4 p.m.
— Featured photo by Sean McGray, NSU Photographic Services