By Matt Vines, Northwestern State Assistant Director of Communications
SAN ANTONIO -– All the pent up emotion, disappointment, and heartbreak from an 0-5 start released as kicker Eddie Godina connected on a game-winning 32-yard field goal as time expired to lift Northwestern State to a 49-47 win against No. 14/19 UIW.
Demon players rushed the field to surround their kicker as coaches and players wrapped their arms around each other.
The celebration ended with NSU coach Brad Laird getting an ice bath before players lifted their leader onto their shoulders, ending the six-game spring season as victors.
“It’s unbelievable for these young men and coaches about how we’ve gotten here,” said Laird, who recorded his fourth win against a ranked team and first since winning at UIW in 2019, a 44-41 overtime win. “We knew that we had not put together a complete game and made plays in all three phases, but for our guys to continue to fight back and find a way to makes is great.
“I said last week that I don’t know if I’ve ever been as proud of a group as I am of this one, but you can’t top it off better than we did tonight.”
After four one-score losses this season, NSU (1-5, 1-5 Southland Conference) needed to respond to late-game magic from UIW.
The Demons appeared to be in control when quarterback Bryce Rivers led a 76-yard drive ending in a 10-yard Scooter Adams’ touchdown run, his third score of the night.
NSU grabbed a 46-40 lead with 1:28 left before UIW blocked an extra point, the eighth blocked kick/punt this season.
But the Cardinals (3-2, 3-2 SLC) answered with their playoff lives on the line, marching 48 yards in just 22 seconds resulting in a Cameron Ward 34-yard touchdown pass to Darion Chafin. Kicker Carson Mohr made his extra point to give UIW a 47-46 lead.
The NSU passing attack ruled the day as Rivers and Co. fired back with one last drive, highlighted by a 31-yard catch in which Javon Antonio outleapt a UIW defender to set up the game-winning field goal.
Rivers broke NSU’s single-game passing record with 477 yards on 34-of-61 passing and three touchdowns as the San Antonio native shined in front of more than a dozen family and friends.
“This is what we’ve been working for this spring and this fall, it’s awesome,” Rivers said. “We knew we had to take it play by play and execute in the moment, and good plays on top of good plays will lead to something good eventually.
“The hard work in practice is paying off, and it showed today.”
Antonio finished with a career-high 192 yards on 11 catches and two touchdowns, outpacing the previous week’s output by two yards. The 11 catches ties for sixth on NSU’s charts and the 192 yards is tied for seventh.
The NSU offense also broke a single-game record with 707 yards — 477 passing and 230 rushing.
Antonio’s catch set up Godina’s 32-yard field goal attempt, which turned out to be his third make of the day. The junior college All-American split the uprights on 30 and 42 yards earlier in the day.
“I’ve been waiting for this moment my whole life,” said Godina, who originally committed to UIW out of Trinity Valley Community College. “I went through a lot of adversity at the beginning of the season, a lot of blocked kicks.
“But I never gave up, and coach always told me that he trusted me, and I trusted myself the whole time. And the moment finally came. This felt great after going through so much this season, and this gives us so much confidence going into the fall.”
UIW appeared to be in the driver’s seat midway through the second half after the Cardinals scored touchdowns on consecutive drives to snatch a 37-26 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Running back Kevin Brown, who gained 160 yards, scampered for a 53-yard touchdown run before receiver Robert Ferrel scored on a 23-yard pass from Ward. Ferrel caught seven passes for 144 yards to pair with a 60-yard punt return and 109 kickoff return yards.
An NSU offense searching for balance found it Saturday, and Adams injected NSU with life when he gained all 75 yards on the ground on the ensuing drive.
Adams scooted 65 yards to set up his 10-yard touchdown run to cut UIW’s edge to 37-33.
The junior finished with 208 rushing yards and three touchdowns, the latter a career high. Saturday’s effort ranks 13th all-time in NSU history while his career-high 212 yards at Lamar earlier this season sits in 10th.
The Demon defense, who had been the most consistent unit all season, inflicted one of its three turnovers as Kunta Hester forced a fumble from Ferrel that Keenan Leachman recovered.
Antonio stuck it to the Cardinals on the ensuing drive with a 14-yard fade touchdown in which the ball bounced off his hands only for Antonio to grab it back on top of a UIW player’s helmet.
NSU had two 100-yard receivers for the second time this season as Gavin Landry produced career highs of nine catches for 131 yards.
Landry, who dropped a touchdown pass earlier in the half, responded with a flurry of huge catches late, accounting for 93 of his yards in the second half.
“We’ve been through the highs lows, and we were right there with No. 5 Sam Houston last week and No. 7 Nicholls to start the season as well as a ranked Southeastern team,” Landry said. “The ball hadn’t swung our way, but this is what Coach Laird said in pregame chapel from Galatians 6:9, ‘Let us not grow grow weary in doing good for the proper time you will reap the harvest if you do not give up.’
“I dropped the touchdown earlier in the second half … but I was able to turn the page, flip the script, and Bryce kept coming back to me. All of us made plays, especially Javon making some monster plays. We stayed the course and continued to come to work, and I think this spring will be great momentum for us going into the fall.”
The Demons offense started strongly, scoring 17 first-quarter points including 10 in its first two drives.
NSU glided down the field to start the game as Levar Gumms scored on a 12-yard touchdown pass from Rivers. Gumms had career highs of 93 yards on eight catches, 87 of those in the first half.
Rivers completed his first seven passes which put NSU in the red zone again, resulting in a Godina 30-yard field goal for a 10-7 edge.
But UIW had answers as Ferrel scored on a 23-yard run and Mohr tied the game with a 32-yard field goal, 10-10, late in the first quarter.
NSU heavily relied on the pass in the first quarter, but Adams bolted for a 64-yard touchdown run to end the first quarter with a 17-10 lead. Adams has two rushing touchdowns of more than 50 yards and NSU has three overall this season.
But the UIW defense forced its second turnover and three punts as part of a scoreless second quarter for NSU.
The Cardinals scored two second-quarter touchdowns and grabbed a 23-17 lead at halftime.
Ferrel returned a punt 60 yards to set up a Kevin Brown 1-yard touchdown, cutting NSU’s lead to 17-16.
Brown scored his second touchdown on a three-yard run that capped a 63-yard drive.
Ward threw for 220 of his 431 passing yards, finishing 33-of-59 with two touchdowns and one interception.
— Featured photo by Chris Reich, NSU Photographic Services