Ranked Redhawks no non-conference homecoming cupcake for Demons

 PRESSURE POINT:  NSU senior defensive end Isaiah Longino sacks Houston Christian’s Justin Fomby in the Demons’ 37-10 road win last Saturday. (Photo by CHRIS REICH, Journal Sports)

By JASON PUGH, Special to the Journal

NATCHITOCHES – With just two home games remaining this season for his Northwestern State football team, fifth-year head coach Brad Laird wants his team to seize those moments.

After its second of three multi-week road trips this season, the Demons return home to face No. 16/18 Southeast Missouri State at 1 p.m. today in NSU’s annual homecoming game.

“We look forward to the opportunity – one to play at home,” Laird said. “It’s always good to get back home and play in Turpin Stadium. Two, the competition of playing a playoff-type football team that is coming to Turpin Stadium.”

Today’s game can be seen on ESPN+ with free streaming audio available on www.NSUDemons.com and through the Northwestern State Athletics mobile app, which can be downloaded free for Apple and Android devices.

The game marks the first matchup between a pair of teams who bring momentum into the contest. Northwestern State (3-4) has won three of its past four games, giving NSU its first 3-0 Southland Conference start in 20 years, while the Redhawks (5-1) have won five straight since dropping the season opener at Iowa State.

It also marks the Demons’ final non-conference game of the season and the second against an Ohio Valley Conference team. Northwestern State fell to Eastern Illinois, 35-27, in Charleston, Illinois, on Oct. 8.

SEMO is the second OVC opponent to visit Turpin Stadium in as many seasons, following UT Martin’s trip to Natchitoches on Sept. 18, 2021.

The Redhawks bring with them a balanced offensive attack headlined by one of the nation’s most productive FCS running backs, Geno Hess. Hess leads the OVC in rushing and ranks 15th nationally with 630 rushing yards. His 105 rush yards per game stands 14th in the FCS.

The Demons counter with a passing attack that features the FCS’ most productive receiving duo as Zach Patterson (50) and Javon Antonio (48) have combined for 98 receptions through seven games.

Patterson’s 50 catches put him in a tie for 10th on NSU’s single-season reception list.

Each team’s offense, however, has a complement.

“It all starts with the quarterback (Paxton DeLaurent),” Laird said. “He gets the ball downfield to their playmakers. They’ve got some big tall receivers. Hess, the running back, is one of the best. They do a great job running and passing and up front on the offensive line.”

The same could be said for the Demons’ offensive line, which helped pave the way for Kennieth Lacy’s career-best 107 rushing yards at Houston Christian last Saturday night.

While Lacy’s first 100-yard game snapped a run of 17 games without one for the Demons, the NSU offensive line also kept Demon quarterback Zachary Clement clean against the Huskies.

“It feels really good when you get a back who rushes for 100 yards,” NSU center Joey Milburn said. “Lacy was definitely finding the lanes. We came into the game knowing we had to establish the run game, and we did. It was good to keep Zach clean, too, because we do throw the ball quite a bit.”

With both teams riding high and the atmosphere of homecoming, Laird said he is eager for the Demons to face a previously unfamiliar opponent.

“These games are fun – when you go against somebody you don’t know a lot about,” he said. “You know they’ve had a successful year. They’re 5-1. They’re ranked 16th in one poll. They’re a good football team that’s having a great year. It’s a great opportunity for us.”

Contact Jason at pughj@nsula.edu