College football: NSU picks up first win

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NATCHITOCHES — Northwestern State gave up 35 points as the nation’s leading rusher, Kade Harrington, ran for 282 yards and all five touchdowns — and Demons coach Jay Thomas was all smiles about his defense after a breakthrough, wire-to-wire 48-35 Homecoming victory Saturday night over visiting Lamar.

It was the first win in six games overall, four Southland Conference contests, for the Demons, who came off an open date with a flourish in front of a Turpin Stadium crowd of 9,133. NSU opened a 17-0 lead early in the second quarter and never allowed Lamar (3-3, 2-2) closer than 10 points afterward.

Senior quarterback Stephen Rivers went the distance, throwing the first two touchdown passes of his college career while going 15 of 21 for 197 yards and steering the Demons to 479 total yards, 347 in the first half while building a 31-14 lead.

Junior running back De’Mard Llorens had his first 100-yard rushing total, gaining 105 on 21 carries including scores of 53 and 1 yards. Shakeir Ryan caught a 22-yard touchdown throw from Rivers while Zach White snagged a deflected 2-yarder, with the ball knocked away from intended receiver Ed Eagan.

A pivotal play with 14:17 remaining put NSU in command. With second-and-goal at the NSU 2, and the Cardinals poised to cut the Demons’ 34-21 advantage in half, Harrington fumbled and Demons junior safety Adam Jones snatched the ball and raced 95 yards to make it 41-21.

“All year long it’s felt like we haven’t gotten a break. Teams would fumble and the ball bounced right back into their hands, but tonight, we got a couple breaks,” said Thomas. “It feels like a ton of bricks off my shoulders, off our shoulders. These players, these coaches, they worked so hard the last two weeks and they came out and played like we can tonight.”

Rivers went deep to Eagan on the game’s first play, a 39-yard connection, and three snaps later senior Daniel Taylor scampered 12 yards up the middle for a 7-0 lead just 2:17 into the contest. Llorens’ 53-yard run through the left side came at the 3:47 mark of the opening quarter to double the margin, and a 26-yard Chris Moore field goal 34 seconds into the second period made it 17-0.

Harrington, who ran for a conference-record 347 yards in a win over Abilene Christian last week and came in averaging 166 yards per game, dashed 79 yards 13 seconds later to get the Cardinals on the board. He also ran for scores of 5, 2, 3 and 2 yards among his 36 carries.

The Demons got Rivers’ two TD passes before halftime sandwiched around a Harrington score. Ryan’s catch came with 9:31 left in the half and White’s score was posted with 13 seconds showing, capping an impressive 68-yard, 8-play drive.
Lamar opened the third quarter with a score but could not sustain its next two possessions, the latter halted by Jones’ school-record fumble return touchdown.

“Our defense played great,” said Thomas. “Kade Harrington is that good. But we created some negative plays, got some big stops, and played aggressively, with confidence. We bounced back well.”

Senior linebacker Jacob Merriman made 10 tackles while sophomore linebacker Lyn Clark had eight, including a sack, and posted two quarterback hurries. Junior safety Darius Poullard also had a sack against a Lamar squad that had allowed only one sack in its first five games, including a competitive loss at Baylor and a 49-46 win at then third-ranked FCS Sam Houston State.

The Demons ran for a season-high 282 yards, with Chris Jones posting 89 on 10 carries and Taylor getting 69 on his 10 tries.

“Proud of our offensive line. Those big guys had their best game tonight. We had a really good plan, and executed it,” said Thomas. “Stephen Rivers gave us something special running the offense, and it all clicked. Time after time, we did what we needed to do to win.”

NSU will hit the road for the next two weeks, visiting unbeaten conference leader and old rival McNeese next Saturday night, then going to Nicholls on Halloween, before hosting Abilene Christian on Nov. 7.

— Northwestern State Sports Information