Demons hope to make themselves at home tonight in Houston

APPLYING PRESSURE:  Defensive end Jomard Valsin (0) and the Demons return to Southland Conference play trying for a 3-0 league start tonight at Houston Christian. (Photo by CHRIS REICH, Northwestern State)

By JASON PUGH, Special to the Journal

HOUSTON – Mention Texas to Northwestern State junior safety Jacob Washington and watch a wide smile engulf his face.

“I just can’t wait to get back to Texas,” Washington said ahead of tonight’s Southland Conference matchup with Houston Christian. “All my family and friends are going to be there. It’s just different for me. I’m going to have all my energy. I’m not going to stop.”

Having the feel of home should bolster NSU. The Demon players have gobbled up their full allotment of tickets. That will be significant in a cozy environment at Husky Stadium, listed with a 5,000-seat capacity. NSU has opened Southland play with two homefield wins.

While Washington won’t stop, he and his league-leading Demons (2-4, 2-0) will look for a better start to the game than in any other this season when they kick off against the homestanding Huskies (2-3, 1-1) at 6 tonight.

The game can be seen on ESPN+ and heard on or through the Northwestern State Athletics mobile app, which can be downloaded free for Apple and Android devices.

To a man, the Demons have emphasized the importance of a fast start. NSU has not held a lead at the end of a first quarter this season and only once have the Demons led at halftime.

Last week at Eastern Illinois, NSU fell behind 35-7 with slow offensive production and little defensive resistance in the first quarter setting a tone. The Demons finally found their stride late in the third quarter, while the defense stymied the Panthers, but a comeback fell short, 35-27.

“As an offense, we have to start fast,” said quarterback Zachary Clement, who has thrown for at least 327 yards in each of his three starts this season. “We were moving the ball up and down the field (at EIU). We just didn’t finish, and that played a role in us losing the game.”

The Demons have been a second-half team, scoring 80 of their 129 points (62 percent) after halftime.

NSU also has outscored its opponents 80-76 after halftime.

“There are a couple of ways to look at this,” fifth-year head coach Brad Laird said. “One, we’re trying to figure out the slow starts. We’ve done that several times this year. That starts with me, getting it figured out.

“Getting into the second half, they’ve shown all year they’ll continue to fight no matter what the situation is. Our guys gave us a shot to win. At halftime, that’s all you can ask for. We’ve got to learn to put it together for 60 minutes.”

As Northwestern eyes its first 3-0 Southland Conference start since 2002, the Demons have recognized and been part of a league-wide trend.

Both of NSU’s first two Southland Conference victories have been one-possession games – beating Lamar 35-27 before edging Nicholls 36-33. Similarly, the Huskies have been involved in even closer affairs, holding off Lamar, 37-34, on Oct. 1 before falling 19-17 to Nicholls on Oct. 8 on a last-second field goal.

“We thought that’s what it was going to be like in the conference going into this year,” Laird said. “There have been a lot of one-score games throughout the conference that come down to the fourth quarter. We’ve got to be ready to go out and play 60 minutes.”

Success in one-score games against Houston Christian has been a constant for Northwestern, which leads the all-time series 4-1.

All four of the Demons’ wins have been by four or fewer points, including a two-game season sweep in 2021 by four points each time – 21-17 Oct. 9 in Houston and 28-24 in NSU’s home finale Nov. 6.

Saturday’s matchup features two of the top three passing offenses in the Southland. Northwestern State’s 285 yards per game stands second while HCU’s mark of 255.8 yards per game is third.

“Any team in this conference on any given Saturday has the ability to win,” Laird said. “We’re still 2-0 in conference and have the opportunity to be 1-0 this week. We have the ability, with everything in front of us, to do what we want to do.”

One thing they must do is cut down turnovers. NSU is No. 1 in FCS in turnovers committed. Houston Christian is tops in turnovers forced.

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