By JASON PUGH, Special to the Journal
HOUSTON – The Northwestern State football team talked about starting fast for much of the first half of the 2022 season.
The Demons found Saturday night what had been missing, starting quickly and never looking back in a 37-10 Southland Conference win against Houston Christian at Husky Stadium.
“What a performance by our guys,” fifth-year head coach Brad Laird said. “I go back to the team meeting Monday we had coming off last week. Our guys made up their mind coming out of that meeting what we had to do – putting it together for four quarters and starting fast.”
Northwestern State (3-4, 3-0) broke quickly, scoring 24 first-quarter points – its most in a single quarter since a 28-point second quarter against Sam Houston on Oct. 13, 2018.
NSU’s offense built off its strong second half from a week ago, scoring on its opening drive for the second time this season as Garrison Johnson capped a 10-play, 82-yard march with the first of his two 2-yard touchdown runs.
That opened the floodgates for a 24-point first stanza, NSU’s most first-quarter points in the Laird era.
The Purple Swarm defense did its part to aid the offense, intercepting HCU quarterback Justin Fomby twice in the first quarter as Dante Thomas and Keenan Leachman each collected their first career picks.
Those turnovers set the tone for the best performance by the Purple Swarm, which allowed 267 yards and just three points.
“It builds that trust that we can be that defense who can be dominant,” said senior defensive end Isaiah Longino, who moved into a fourth-place tie with Roy Locks on the NSU career sack chart with his 18.5th career sack.
“We’ve had great second halves throughout the season, and we decided this game we need to start fast and put it all together. I feel we did that.”
Longino’s two sacks were part of a season-best four-sack performance for the NSU defense, which continuously kept the Huskies (2-4, 1-2) in long-yardage situations and allowed just 3.3 yards per play.
It also allowed the Demons to breathe as the HCU defense slowed the Northwestern State offense after its early surge.
As the Demons failed to add to their lead in the second and third quarters, HCU made its push in the third quarter, taking a tipped pass back 70 yards for a touchdown and turning another Demon interception into a 41-yard Nery Enriquez field goal to cut the Demons advantage to 14 with 44 seconds to play in the third quarter.
That’s when the Demons answered adversity with steady dose of a resurgent run game.
Kennieth Lacy’s 1-yard touchdown run on fourth down ended a nine-play, 57-yard touchdown drive that re-established a 21-point advantage.
Lacy finished with a career-high 107 rushing yards, giving the Demons their first individual 100-yard rushing effort since April 10, 2021.
“I owe everything to my O-line guys,” Lacy said. “They worked their butts off all week. They grinded, and they gave me the opportunity to open it up and score.”
Northwestern State rushed for 145 of its 188 yards in the second half as the Demons racked up a season-high 561 yards total offense.
Included in that total was a career-high 373 passing yards from quarterback Zachary Clement, who threw for a pair of touchdowns – a 10-yarder to Zach Patterson in the first quarter and a 34-yard, catch-and-run score by Javon Antonio.
Clement’s yardage total is the seventh-highest single-game total in NSU program history.
Patterson finished with 10 catches for 108 yards and a score – his second straight game with at least 10 grabs and 100 receiving yards.
“We really expect to come out and play fast every week,” Patterson said. “That’s what we really do. We let the other team adjust to us rather than adjust to them. I look for (Clement) and he looks for me. The chemistry is growing week by week.”
With the win, the Demons completed their first 3-0 start in Southland Conference play since 2002 while collecting their third straight win against Houston Christian and their first victory by more than four points against the Huskies.
“A win is a win,” Laird said. “I’m proud for this team. We’ll celebrate it tonight and be ready to go tomorrow.”
The Demons return to action Saturday when they host Southeast Missouri for Homecoming. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. at Turpin Stadium.
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