By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports
NATCHITOCHES — It was apparent from the stands, where families and fans couldn’t help but notice.
It was obvious to the Demon Brothers, the former players gathered under tents behind the south end zone.
It was palpable on the field at Turpin Stadium throughout the nearly two-hour 31st Annual Joe Delaney Bowl spring football game – especially during a brief, benches-clearing skirmish early in the action.
With new coordinators among six new assistant coaches, there’s a significant uptick in the energy and intensity around the Northwestern State football team, which wrapped up spring drills Saturday afternoon with something for everyone.
The offense scored 37 points.
The defense came up with four turnovers.
There were only six penalties in 110 snaps from scrimmage.
And there was that intrasquad scrap …
“I hated that happened in front of everybody,” said fifth-year head coach Brad Laird, who really didn’t. It was the spring game, after all. And it quickly disintegrated with no harm (and no penalties or ejections; save those for the fall).
“These coaches, these players, they want to win. I wouldn’t want ‘em any other way,” he said, chuckling at a description of the “chippy” nature of the game. “I don’t mind holding them back, pulling them back. With this coaching staff, they understand what this team has to do to be successful, and that’s play hard and be exceptionally competitive.
“We didn’t cross the line out there, well, except that one time,” said Laird.
“We’re very passionate about this. We believe in everything that’s changed, both sides of the ball,” said senior safety P.J. Herrington. “It fits us a lot better, considering how fast we are. The offense is getting very explosive. We’ve got a lot of weapons added.
“So it’s going to be intense. We’re going to get after each other. Sometimes we might get carried away, but once we’re back in the locker room, it’s all family, and we’re going to laugh and talk about it.”
There was plenty to talk about between the whistles.
Junior Javon Antonio provided a highlight reel, to no surprise, as the 2020 All-Southland pick had 102 receiving yards on five catches, including a 19-yard score from returning starting quarterback Zachary Clement (20-37-2, 270 yards, 2 TDs), a sophomore. Senior QB Kaleb Fletcher (17-30, 137 yards) was precise with his game-ending eight-yard TD to junior college transfer Andy Pierre-Antione.
Senior linebacker Race Moser led everybody with five tackles and added a fumble recovery. Defensive end JaBralen Yarber, a junior, posted two sacks. Herrington broke up three passes, as did another veteran DB, senior William Hooper. Sophomore punter Scotty Roblow, a Byrd High product and All-Southland performer, pinned the offense repeatedly with booming spirals.
Shreveporter Patrick Netherton has been calling NSU games on the Demon Sports Network since 2003, and every spring and preseason, he’s spent plenty of time on the field alongside the coaches watching scrimmages. His biggest takeaway from this Delaney Bowl?
“The energy level was a lot higher in the spring. Coaches were bringing a lot, players were bringing a lot, players were encouraging each other … there was more of that than I’ve seen in quite a while,” said Netherton. “I saw a lot I liked, both sides of the ball, but overall the high energy was the element that stood out.”
Photo by GARY HARDAMON, Northwestern State