NATCHITOCHES – Northwestern State junior kicker Eric Piccione made three field goals Thursday, but he didn’t get a chance to attempt a fourth.
NSU moved into Incarnate Word territory with 30 seconds remaining and down by three, but the Cardinals defense knocked away a fourth-down pass one play after quarterback Brooks Haack threw an illegal forward pass to create a fourth-and-long.
The Demons’ comeback fell short as UIW held on for a 21-18 win in NSU’s home opener and the Southland Conference opener for both teams.
A 28-yard catch by NSU’s Tuff McClain and a pass interference set up the Demons (0-2, 0-1 SLC) in UIW territory after the Cardinals (1-1, 1-0 SLC) gobbled up more than four minutes of the remaining 5:32 in its previous drive.
“This is one is tough,” said Haack, who completed 16-of-32 passes for 165 yards. “We’ll go back and look on film and see plays we left out there in the running and passing game.
“I was overthinking (on the illegal forward pass) and didn’t make the right play. Our defense held UIW to 21 points, and that should win the game. It’s a tough pill to swallow for the offense, but we will come back and fight.”
NSU lost its third consecutive home opener since posting a 29-7 mark in its Turpin Stadium openers.
McClain led all receivers with six catches for a career-high 111 yards, but McClain fumbled twice, including losing a third-quarter fumble at the UIW 34-yard line. His other fumble cost NSU a first down on third down.
“We had opportunities to score, but we had older guys turn the ball over,” said NSU coach Jay Thomas, also referencing a fumbled handoff in the second quarter. “We’ll rally around Brooks, and guys came up to him after the game telling they’ve got his back.
“Our run defense was good, and our defense overall played adequate enough after being in some binds. We’ve got to go back to work and be ready to fight with our next two conference games on the road.”
Trailing 14-6 at halftime, special teams sparked NSU’s third quarter as the Demons scored five points to cut UIW’s lead to 14-11.
Shawn Stephens (five tackles and a sack) blocked a Cody Seidel punt in the end zone, and NSU tackled Seidel after he caught the blocked punt for a safety.
On the ensuing UIW kickoff, Piccione made his third field goal of the night, a 34-yarder after NSU’s drive stalled inside the 10-yard line.
UIW struck quickly with a 69-yard drive, culminating in a Broderick Reeves 11-yard touchdown run to grab a 21-11 edge with 4:03 left in the third quarter. Reeves rushed for 101 yards on 22 attempts with a touchdown.
After not scoring touchdowns on its first two red zone chances, the Demons found the end zone on a Chris Jones 3-yard run to slice UIW’s lead to 21-18 with 11:25 left in the game.
Jones rushed for 75 yards on 15 carries while De’Mard Llorens led NSU with 87 yards on six carries. It’s the first time NSU’s had two rushers with at least 70 yards since Oct. 31 at Nicholls.
“We had some adversity tonight, and our offense wasn’t coming along at first,” Llorens said. “We’ve got to keep believing in ourselves and in our coaches’ play calling.
“We really beat ourselves tonight. We’ve just got to put a whole game together.”
UIW controlled large portions of the first half to take a 14-6 halftime lead.
NSU struck first with a 38-yard field goal from Piccione after the Demon defense held on a fourth-down incompletion at the NSU 43-yard line.
The Cardinals responded with a 75-yard scoring drive to grab a 7-3 edge with 4:07 left in the first quarter. Junior Sessions plunged in from 2 yards for the touchdown on third down, capping a 6:28 possession in which the Cardinals produced four of their six third-down conversions in the first half. UIW made nine of its 18 third-down attempts, while NSU converted just 3-of-13.
Another double-digit play drive resulted in UIW’s second touchdown to go up 14-3 with 4:07 left in the second quarter. After a touchdown was called back on a penalty, Brittain found receiver Kody Edwards at the back of the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown on third down.
Brittain threw for 241 yards on 16-of-33 aim with Jordan Hicks (six catches for 95 yards) as his favorite target.
Piccione, a transfer from Blinn Junior College (Texas) who handles kicking and punting duties, came through again with a 47-yard field goal that snuck over the cross bar to cut UIW’s lead to 14-6.
In the first half, the Cardinals outgained NSU 199-110, including a 123-19 edge after the first quarter.
— Matt Vines, Northwestern State Sports Information