Subtle but decisive plays swung Southland opener NSU’s way Saturday night

By Doug Ireland

   Case in point: Northwestern State’s 49-48 victory Saturday night at Lamar in the Southland Conference opener for both teams.

   Attention-grabbing plays abounded from the Demons. Quarterback Shelton Eppler shattered NSU records with 474 passing yards, 469 total offensive yards and six touchdown passes. His last two went to Jazz Ferguson, whose go-ahead 70-yard twisting, one-hand catch and run TD was third overnight on the ESPN SportsCenter Top 10 Plays of the Day feature.

   The margin of victory was provided with 2:38 remaining when defensive tackle O’shea Jackson powered through and deflected Lamar’s final extra point try. The Demons picked up a pair of first downs after the kickoff to run out the clock.

   “It doesn’t get any more special than O’Shea Jackson’s blocked PAT,” said Demons’ first-year coach Brad Laird. “But that made the difference because Austyn Fendrick and our kicking team went seven-for-seven after having some problems a week earlier on placement kicks (having a PAT and field goal blocked in a 34-7 win over Grambling). Executing well on what should be seven routine plays was decisive.”

   Erasing the game’s final 2:38 was triggered by a 16-yard connection between Eppler and Jaylen Watson on second-and-10 at the NSU 20.

   After the catch, Watson juked free of a tackler, and headed downfield near the Cardinals’ sideline. Instead of surging forward into defenders several yards upfield, Watson tucked the ball and slid down untouched at the 36.

   “A play that is easily overlooked, but was so impressive,” said Laird. “Jaylen had the presence to stay in bounds and keep the clock moving. Normally you fight for every yard but the best play at that moment was to take a slide and not give Lamar a free timeout by getting run out of bounds. You coach that, but to see it done smartly at that point was tremendous.” The demons applied the finishing touch on the next snap.

   “The O-line executes perfectly, Jared West hits the seam and goes 40 yards for another first down and that secured the game for us,” said Laird. “It was the knockout punch.”

   NSU (2-1 overall, 1-0 in the Southland) was dominant for the game’s first 24 minutes, roaring to a 28-0 lead before Lamar cut the margin in half in the final six minutes before intermission. The Cardinals continued their surge after halftime, forging ties at 28 and 35, but never capturing the lead.

   “I was proud of our resiliency and to continue to find a way to win,” said Laird.

   “That win will there were a lot of situations we can learn from, in order to be more consistent down the road.”“The O-line executes perfectly, Jared West hits the seam and goes 40 yards for another first down and that secured the game for us,” said Laird. “It was the knockout punch.”

   NSU (2-1 overall, 1-0 in the Southland) was dominant for the game’s first 24 minutes, roaring to a 28-0 lead before Lamar cut the margin in half in the final six minutes before intermission. The Cardinals continued their surge after halftime, forging ties at 28 and 35, but never capturing the lead.

   “I was proud of our resiliency and to continue to find a way to win,” said Laird.

   “That win will there were a lot of situations we can learn from, in order to be more consistent down the road.”

   “Obviously it was a great performance, but more important than the yards and touchdowns were the decisions he was making, making the right read, letting our receivers make plays. Sure enough, with the receiving corps, those guys made things happen, because our offensive line gave Shelton time to operate with good protection.

   “The offense got in a rhythm early and got in a rhythm late. The strong finish allowed us to win,” said Laird.

   Notching a road win, and overcoming adversity to do so, was especially gratifying for Laird and his team, which gets an open date this Saturday.

   “Teaching off a win is so much more enjoyable,” he said. “We’ve got things in all three phases to improve upon during the week, and we’re going out there Tuesday to address those aspects.”

   NSU will work out three times this week before enjoying Friday and Saturday off before game week work resumes for the visit to Southeastern Louisiana on Sept. 29.

Photo by Chris Reich.

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