By Matt Vines, Northwestern State, Assistant Sports Information Director
BEAUMONT, Texas -– Northwestern State produced its first 200-yard rusher in five years, but the Demons couldn’t climb all the way out of an early hole in a 31-23 loss to Lamar.
Scooter Adams rushed for 161 of his 212 yards in the first half, but Lamar (2-3, 2-3 Southland Conference) intercepted three passes and scored the first 28 points.
Trailing 31-7 in the fourth quarter, NSU (0-4, 0-4 SLC) mounted a late rally with two touchdowns, the final one with 1:18 remaining, to put the result in doubt trailing by eight points.
“First of all, we’re disappointed with the way we came out,” said NSU coach Brad Laird. “As we approach these opportunities we get, little things caught up with us in all three phases.
“When you get behind the eight ball like we did, especially early on, I love the fight in our young men, and they’ll continue to do that, but we need to fight to get that W.”
After Lamar’s Bailey Giffen missed a field goal which would have salted away the win with 1:55 left, NSU quarterback Bryce Rivers led an 80-yard march that ended with a nine-yard touchdown to Javon Antonio.
Rivers led the Demons with 136 passing yards on 7-of-19 passing, adding two two-point conversions to Antonio on fade routes.
A 45-yard connection to Marquise Bridges set up NSU’s final score.
At the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Demons put themselves within striking distance with an Adams’ 25-yard touchdown run at the 12:19 mark.
NSU took advantage of a Lamar fumbled punt snap that generated energy in the final period.
But the Cardinals offense, which rushed for 212 yards, consumed large chunks of the fourth quarter to reduce NSU’s comeback chances.
Yet NSU kicker Eddie Godina bounced an onsides kick attempt with 1:18 with the Demons’ chances still intact. The tough-to-field kick traveled out of bounds, and Lamar kneeled to seal its victory.
Lamar can credit its quick start in part to touchdowns after two of NSU’s three turnovers, all interceptions thrown by quarterback Kaleb Fletcher.
The Cardinals scored their initial touchdown on a 75-yard drive in which they converted three third downs capped by a Chaz Ward 1-yard scoring run. Quarterback Jalen Dummett rushed for 37 of his 84 yards to convert a third-and-long. Lamar converted five of its first seven third downs to help build its lead, although the NSU defense hardened to hold the Cardinals to 6-of-17 overall.
NSU’s first drive was halted in Lamar territory by the first interception, and the Cardinals marched 73 yards ending in a Dummett 10-yard pass to Connor Venetis for a 14-0 edge.
Lamar’s third interception occurred at the 25-yard line, setting up a short field in which Dummett scurried 31 yards on third-and-16 to build the Cardinals’ lead to 21-0 early in the second quarter.
NSU suffered another glaring special teams miscue when Lamar’s Jacoby Davis blocked a punt deep in Lamar territory and scooped it up in the end zone for a 28-0 edge.
“We got in a hole in all three phases, and you can’t put yourselves in that hole in the Southland Conference,” Laird said. “It’s tough to overcome.”
Adams, who gashed Lamar’s offense throughout the first half on drives that ultimately ended in turnovers or missed fourth downs, finally scratched the scoreboard with a 63-yard touchdown to slice Lamar’s advantage to 28-7 late in the second quarter.
Adams, who has two touchdown runs of at least 50 yards this season, topped the century mark for the second time in his first four games after a 103-yard effort at Southeastern.
“We executed the game plan, and I couldn’t have done it without my offensive line and the coaches drawing up the plays,” Adams said. “We kept telling each other to stay up and that anything could happen (during the comeback).
“We were trying to keep each other positive so we could go make plays.”
De’Mard Llorens is the last NSU rusher to top the 200-yard mark in 2016 against Lamar, ultimately in a 32-31 loss in which the Demons rushed for 390 yards.
NSU outgained Lamar 409-331 and routinely had better starting field position because the Cardinals avoided kickoff return stud Donovan Duvernay.
Fletcher finished with 58 passing yards on 8-of-19 with three interceptions.
“We have to find a balance between the running and passing game,” Laird said. “We get some consistency in one area, and we’re inconsistent in others.
“We haven’t been able to put it all together as far as the running and passing game.”
After NSU’s defense allowed 21 offensive points early, the Demons held the Cardinals to just three second-half points.
Linebackers Blake Stephenson (14 tackles) and Chandler Moncrief (11 tackles) reached double figures and each recorded a sack, two of five sacks NSU logged. Jared Pedraza led the way with 1.5 sacks.
NSU will turn around and finish its home schedule Thursday on a five-day turnaround against Southland Conference-leading Sam Houston.