By JASON PUGH, Special to the Journal
NATCHITOCHES – Javon Antonio wasn’t sure he was living the moment or if he was in a dream Saturday evening, but he couldn’t have scripted it better.
With his Northwestern State football team falling behind visiting Nicholls by 12 with 3:17 to play, things looked bleak, but the Demons star receiver and the NSU offense roared to life.
Antonio hauled in a pair of touchdowns from Zachary Clement in the final 94 seconds – the decisive one with 9 seconds to play – and added a 2-point conversion reception, sandwiched around a successful onside kick.
That against-the-odds combination lifted the Demons to a wild 36-33 Southland Conference victory against Nicholls at Turpin Stadium.
“After I caught that (last) touchdown, I thought of Jazz Ferguson and the (finishing TD catch in a 2-OT) McNeese game (in 2018),” Antonio said. “I was like, ‘Wow, I’m really living this moment right now.’ That was really exciting. I looked at the crowd and the coaches. When I looked at (head) coach (Brad) Laird, that’s what really turned me up.”
Antonio’s third-down grab on a 3-yard dart from quarterback Zachary Clement and the ensuing 2-point catch provided the margin as the Demons (2-3) won their second straight and produced the program’s first 2-0 start in Southland Conference play since 2005.
Antonio’s first touchdown catch, a 27-yarder, pulled the Demons within five with 1:34 to play, leading to Northwestern’s first onside kick attempt of the season.
Fittingly, it was another Demon receiver who came away with the ball as it bounced off a Nicholls player and back toward Northwestern’s line. Zach Patterson — who said he’d never been involved in an onside kick before — tipped the ball to himself and extended the Demons’ lease on life, starting their last chance at their own 45.
“We had moved the ball the drive before and we came out with the onside, I knew we had to make a play and win the game,” Patterson said. “We really push each other every day to see who can make the best plays. Whoever gets their hands on the ball, we have to make a play, each and every one of us.”
The list of Demons who made those plays Saturday was a lengthy one, especially in the final two desperation drives when Northwestern ran 19 plays for 120 yards and tallied 15 points.
In addition to Antonio and Patterson, Ke’Nard King put his name in the mix for the biggest catch of the night.
On the Demons’ final drive, King was unable to snare a catch on a second-and-10 pass. Two plays later, he made up for it, working his way back to make a sliding grab of a pass Clement floated and fluttered downfield while under duress.
“It was fourth down, do or die, so I just threw it down there believing Ke’Nard would get it,” said Clement, who dodged two defenders to avoid a game-ending sack and was off balance and going down as he released the ball.
King’s diving 19-yard grab at the 22 preserved the Demons’ chances to stop a six-game slide to Nicholls (0-5, 0-1).
“I have faith in all of our receivers,” said Clement, who finished 25-for-50 for 327 yards and his third career three-touchdown game. “It’s a special receiver room. I know if I put it out there, we have a really good chance. They picked me up and made me look good.”
Not long before, it looked bleak for the Demons when Nicholls’ Julien Gums broke a 33-yard touchdown run with 3:17 to play, padding a 27-21 lead to two scores. However, Nicholls’ failure on its 2-point conversion left enough room for Clement and the Demons to take advantage.
“To be on the sideline and watch these young men stay the course and keep fighting, keep believing and keep playing, 100 percent credit to their resiliency,” fifth-year head coach Brad Laird said. “We found a way. We had enough time there at the end to be able to not only get the touchdown but then convert the 2-point play and get (defensive coordinator Weston) Glaser’s jumper team out there with (receivers) Travon (Jones) and Javon (to defend a last-play Hail Mary try).
“It was great for our guys to do something that hasn’t been done since 2005.”
Despite the offense’s heroics, Nicholls had one last-gasp chance.
Two 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalties against exuberant Demons following the 2-point conversion pushed the kickoff back to the 10-yard line, giving Nicholls good field position.
The Colonels got a 19-yard completion to the Demons’ 42 with two seconds remaining before an illegal substitution penalty on Northwestern nullified what appeared to be a potential game-ending stop.
With Glaser’s jumper team on the field, Jones outleaped everyone in the end zone to come down with his first interception since playing peewee football in Atlanta.
Antonio, who finished with 132 yards on nine catches, was happy to let his fellow receiver seal the victory.
“I was too happy,” Antonio said. “I was too tired. I said, ‘He’s 6-6. I’m 6-4. He’s gotta get it.’ I told him the play before, ‘It’s coming to you.’ He looked at me and said, ‘I got you Von.’”
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