NATCHITOCHES — Heisman Trophy candidate Dak Prescott won’t be the only Haughton High School graduate starting at quarterback Saturday afternoon as his Mississippi State Bulldogs host J.D. Almond and his Northwestern State teammates at Davis Wade Field in Starkville.
Almond, a sophomore who sparkled in his first collegiate appearance last Saturday, will be NSU’s third starting quarterback in as many games, coach Jay Thomas told Wednesday’s Demon Quarterback Club luncheon audience.
“Haughton vs. Haughton at quarterback, it’s something we toyed with all summer long, but the way J.D. played last week, he earned the right,” said Thomas. “We were very productive with him in the game.
“He and Dak are in touch basically every week and obviously they are good buddies, so that makes it fun. But this is also all business and a chance for us to give J.D. more game experience,” said Thomas. “We’re planning to hone in on our quarterback strategy going forward next week with eight conference games left. We might use all four on Saturday.”
One of the four, senior Stephen Rivers, may make history as a Bulldog opponent Saturday. He was with LSU in 2013 when the Tigers played at Starkville, then at Vanderbilt for a 2014 game at Mississippi State.
NSU’s opening game starter chuckled Wednesday while telling a reporter about that, but said it is especially meaningful since his father, Steve, was a linebacker for Mississippi State whose career was cut short by a knee injury.
“It’s a special opportunity for me since my dad played college ball there,” he said. “We were excited about going there the last two years and so this is one last chance to go into that stadium with the appreciation for it that he certainly has.
“With the atmosphere they offer in Starkville, and I’ve seen it the last two years, not only with the cowbells but the passion for football there, it’s special,” said Rivers, who was recruited by the Bulldogs out of high school. “I’ve been telling our guys about it. You deal with the challenges it creates and you also embrace the chance to compete in one of the best environments in college football.”
Almond led the Demons to nine first downs and 144 offensive yards in three series concluding last Saturday’s 44-17 defeat at UL Lafayette. He threw one touchdown pass and had another dropped.
Last week’s starter, sophomore Joel Blumenthal, has been the most productive of NSU’s quarterbacks, shining in relief leading a comeback to a one-score game until a last-minute touchdown sealed Southeastern Louisiana’s 34-20 opening night victory Sept. 3. He started at UL Lafayette and played into the third quarter before cramps and dehydration hastened his exit.
The Demons spent Wednesday wrapping up game plan preparations for their first game against a Southeastern Conference foe in four seasons, since a 49-3 loss at No. 2-ranked LSU in 2011.
LSU held off State 21-19 last Saturday night as the Demons returned from Lafayette.
“We listened to the game coming home and then I really enjoyed watching the tape Sunday,” said Thomas. “There was a ton of talent on that field and two teams that played very hard, and very well. Obviously there’s very little difference in those two and that presents us with a huge challenge. We’ll go out and compete every play, and our guys are excited about that opportunity.”
NSU will make part of the trip on Thursday, then arrive near Starkville Friday before Saturday’s 3:01 p.m. kickoff in a game televised on the SEC Network.
— Northwestern State Sports Information