College football: NSU falls to No. 1 Sam Houston State

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NATCHITOCHES — Northwestern State did something Saturday night nobody else has done all year against unbeaten Sam Houston State.

Take a lead. And it was no fluke as the Demons, in their final home game, scored on two straight series in the first quarter.

Nor was it a fluke that the explosive Bearkats scored on their next five, taking command in a 48-16 Southland Conference football victory at Turpin Stadium.

“They look like the No. 1 team in the country,” said Demons coach Jay Thomas. “That offense can go the distance any play and they churn out the yardage. But our guys did a lot of good things out there, competed their tails off, and I’m very proud of how they battled tonight.”

NSU (1-9 overall, 0-8 in the Southland) didn’t lack for bright spots.

Senior running back De’Mard Llorens registered his third straight 100-yard rushing game with 114 on 13 carries, including a 14-yard touchdown run that pushed the Demons ahead 13-7 midway through the first quarter.

Llorens also cracked NSU’s career rushing top 10 in the second half, eclipsing Donald Johnson’s 2,253 yards from 1969-72. The Natchitoches native, who gave an impassioned talk to the team Friday night, now has 2,287 career rushing yards and 24 career rushing touchdowns, tied for fifth in school history with All-American Clarence Matthews (1992-95).

Sophomore cornerback Ike Warren picked off a pair of passes. The first, a juggling catch at NSU’s 49, triggered the Demons’ go-ahead touchdown drive. The second, just before halftime, denied the Bearkats a sixth straight TD drive and kept the halftime score at 41-13. Warren played for the first time in seven games, since sustaining an ankle injury Sept. 17.

Junior receiver Bobby Chan-Chan posted a career-best 120 yards on three receptions, the first a 79-yard touchdown from junior quarterback J.D. Almond, a former Haughton star, five minutes into the game to tie it at 7-all. Chan-Chan’s game total and the distance on his score were both season bests for any NSU player.

Almond completed 17 of 35 passes for 196 yards and one TD with one interception.

Sam Houston was held to a season-low seven second-half points. They didn’t need to score after taking a 28-point halftime lead, but they didn’t stop trying, either.

The Bearkats (10-0, 8-0) didn’t match their conference averages of 54 points, or 586 yards, although they were in the neighborhood with 558 total yards, 337 passing by All-America candidate Jeremiah Briscoe, who threw five scoring strikes, two to Nathan Stewart. He caught a 5-yarder on SHSU’s second series to open the scoring and added a 33-yarder 12:29 before halftime.

The other TD throws by Briscoe were 10, 4, and 3 yards. Four of the five scoring passes came in the first half, as the Bearkats drove 85, 58, 44, 32 and 76 yards after the Demons put them behind for the first time in 2016.

But the Demons didn’t wilt. They took the second-half kickoff and drove inside the 10, choosing to try for a TD instead of taking a chip shot field goal. They held SHSU to 62 third-quarter yards and notched a 39-yard Eric Piccione field goal for the only scoring of that period.

NSU finished with 422 total yards, split almost evenly between rushing (201) and passing (221, with Almond posting 195 on 17 of 35 aim with one interception on a deep ball in the second half).

Briscoe went 29 of 46 with Yedidiah Louis making 11 catches for 125 yards and Stewart getting 98 yards on six receptions.

Senior Ralpheal Green led the NSU defense with eight tackles, while junior linebacker Koby Welch had seven while seniors Jahvez Barnes, Adam Jones and Shawn Stephens each posted six.

“Our defense held them to one touchdown in the second half, and they weren’t on cruise control. They had all their big weapons out there and weren’t running off clock, they were trying to go downfield,” said Thomas. “That speaks to the heart our team has, and the effort these guys give day after day. I’m excited to take them across the border to SFA and play for the Chief next week, and hope we can end this on a high note.”

The Demons wrap up their season next Saturday afternoon at old rival Stephen F. Austin in a 3 p.m. collision in the “Battle for Chief Caddo,” the largest trophy in sports. NSU owns the trophy after last year’s win.

— Doug Ireland, Northwestern State Sports Information