Winless Nicholls presents different challenge to Demons

OFF TO SIX:  NSU’s Kennieth Lacy (28) breaks away from a Lamar defender on a 55-yard TD run during the Demons’ 35-27 win last Saturday. (Photo by CHRIS REICH, Northwestern State)


NATCHITOCHES – After notching its first victory of the season a week ago, the Northwestern State football team seeks its first 2-0 start in Southland Conference play since 2005.

For the second straight week, the Demons are meeting a winless foe. But last week’s victim, Lamar, doesn’t have the credentials of Nicholls, which visits Turpin Stadium today at 3:30 in the Colonels’ Southland Conference debut.

Northwestern (1-3 overall, 1-0 in the Southland) entertains Nicholls (0-4, 0-0) in the “Battle of NSUs” at Turpin Stadium. The game will air on ESPN+ with free streaming audio available on and through the Northwestern State Athletics mobile app, which can be downloaded free for Apple and Android devices.

The game serves as Northwestern State’s annual #ForkCancer contest. Fans can donate via text message to the Natchitoches Regional Medical Center Foundation’s Cancer Center Campaign by sending ForkCancer to 4144.

Nicholls has played two FBS teams (ULM, South Alabama), a program moving up to FBS (Jacksonville State) and a frequent FCS playoff participant (Southeast Missouri) in its opening four games. The Colonels are themselves a recurring playoff entry, having been very successful in the past five seasons under coach Tim Rebowe.

But the Demons will benefit from the positive energy created by last week’s 35-27 victory over Lamar, in which Northwestern rallied in the middle two quarters to open a 35-13 advantage.

Chemistry helped spark the end of a three-game, season-opening losing streak for the Demons (1-3, 1-0), who ran off 28 straight points last Saturday following a second-quarter goal-line stand that kept NSU’s deficit at 10 points.

Sparking that offensive awakening was quarterback Zachary Clement, who earned Louisiana Sports Writers Association Offensive Player of the Week honors after throwing for a career-high 366 yards and rushing for 53 more while totaling four touchdowns.

Clement threw a pair of scoring passes in NSU’s 21-point, second-quarter surge and added a third on a 35-yard run around right end.

His 366 passing yards were the second most by a Demon quarterback in Turpin Stadium history and was the seventh-highest total in school single-game history.

“So many of us can learn from that situation,” Demons’ coach Brad Laird said. “Everybody wants to be one of the 11, to have the opportunity to start or to play. When that doesn’t happen, what can that do to that individual? For Zach, he kept preparing and waiting for his opportunity. The way he played showed he didn’t waste any time prior to this in preparing the right way.”

As the Demons eye their first 2-0 start in conference play in 17 years, the Colonels are seeking to match Northwestern State’s Southland start.

The Colonels are playing their fourth of five games on the road to open the season, having fallen to South Alabama, ULM and Southeast Missouri on the road and to Jacksonville State in Nicholls’ home opener a week ago.

Saturday’s game is the 50th meeting between the teams, who battle for a wooden statue with the letters N-S-U carved into it.

“Rivalry games mean a lot,” said junior cornerback Cedric Anderson, who had his first career interception at Nicholls in 2019 and his third against Lamar this past Saturday. “It may not look like it, but we feel rivalry games more than any other game. There’s a bigger picture behind it. We take all of that into account and put it on the field.”

As opposed to the previous four games, the Demons will enter with momentum behind them.

“The good thing about our football team that started last week and will move forward is taking care of the things we can take care of,” Laird said. “What can we do to be 1-0 this week no matter who the opponent is? This week it happens to be Nicholls in the Battle of NSUs. It’s a situation where they’re 0-0 in conference and we’re 1-0.

“Last week, Tuesday and Thursday were probably the best practices we’ve had all year, and it showed on Saturday. It’s important that we prepare the same way.”