NATCHITOCHES – For the first time in the 2019 season, the schedule favors the Northwestern State football team.
Entering Saturday’s 6:30 p.m. Southland Conference matchup with Lamar, the Demons have more home games than road trips remaining on their schedule.
“We’re looking forward to it, having two of the last three games at home,” second-year head coach Brad Laird said. “To be here on a Saturday night in Turpin Stadium and run through the purple smoke, there’s nothing like it.”
Saturday’s game can be seen on Cox Sports Television and on ESPN+ outside of the CST footprint. It can be heard on the Demon Sports Network, flagshipped by 94.9 FM The River in Natchitoches and including 710 AM KEEL in Shreveport and 105.5 KBKK in Alexandria. Free streaming audio also is available on www.NSUDemons.com and through the Northwestern State Athletics mobile app, available for free download through the Apple Store or Google Play.
The Demons (1-8, 1-5) return home for the first time since Oct. 19 when they dropped a 31-30 decision to then-No. 13 Central Arkansas.
That game was part of a two-week stretch that came down to Northwestern State’s final offensive possession of the game. It also started a stretch of three straight NSU games that were one-score games deep into the fourth quarter.
Recent history says that trend should continue when the Cardinals (4-5, 2-4) enter Turpin Stadium. The past three meetings in the Lamar-Northwestern State series all have been one-score games, including a pair of one-point decisions.
Northwestern State has won two straight in the series, starting with a 35-28 win in 2017 and following it with a record-setting 49-48 win in Beaumont, Texas, in 2018. Quarterback Shelton Eppler established school single-game records in passing yards (474) and passing touchdowns (6) in a game that was decided when O’Shea Jackson blocked a Lamar extra point late in the fourth quarter.
In the most recent meeting in Natchitoches between the teams, NSU running back Jared West had the first of his two career three-touchdown games. In three career games against Lamar, West has scored five times. With just three games remaining in his Demons career, West has found his scoring punch, tallying seven touchdowns in the past four games.
“Time’s ticking,” he said. “We’ve got three games left, so I’m trying to enjoy it. There’s nothing better than getting a win at home, and that’s what’s most important, being 1-0 at home this week.”
Lamar has ridden a roller coaster through its first six Southland Conference games, dropping two straight before rebounding with wins against Abilene Christian and Sam Houston State before another two-game losing streak against Incarnate Word and Central Arkansas.
The Cardinals feature one of the Southland’s top rushing attacks, averaging 185.2 yards per game, a mark that stands third in the conference and 31st nationally. A week ago, Northwestern State turned in one of its best defensive efforts against an opponent’s rushing attack, limiting McNeese to 117 yards on a 2.3 yards-per-carry average.
The 117 yards were more than 50 yards fewer than the Cowboys’ season average entering that game.
“(Defensive coordinator) Coach (Mike) Lucas had a great plan, and the players went out and executed that plan,” Laird said. “We’ll see a different scheme with Lamar, but the mentality is the same. They’re built on running the football, but they do it in a different way. They utilize the option where you didn’t see a lot of that from McNeese. They want to put their hand in the dirt and come off and have success running the football.”
Photo: Jared West (21) celebrates after scoring a touchdown Saturday at McNeese. Credit: Sean McGraw/NSU Athletics