NATCHITOCHES – The momentum the Northwestern State football team found in the second quarter Saturday night proved to be a fickle bit of an intangible.
The Demons exchanged punches with No. 19 Southeastern Louisiana for the first 30 minutes at Turpin Stadium before the Lions used a third-quarter surge to break free for a 44-27 Southland Conference victory.
After Ryan Gremillion’s 24-yard field goal tied the game at 17 on the final play of the first half, Northwestern State (0-5, 0-2) found itself in position to build on that momentum immediately after the half when William Hooper forced a Chason Virgil fumble that JaBralen Yarber recovered at the Southeastern 41.
The Demons were unable to turn that into points, going three-and-out thanks to a sack and a false start penalty.
“I never looked at that moment at that time,” second-year head coach Brad Laird said. “You look at the third quarter, getting outscored 20-3. You come out and you get the big turnover and you have the momentum.
“One of the things I talked to the team about before the game and at halftime was sustaining momentum. We didn’t do it early in the game. We did it in the second quarter. We had the opportunity in the third quarter to come off the turnover and stick it in. We weren’t able to convert.”
The Demons survived one more drive thanks to consecutive pass breakups by Isaiah Armstrong and Nick Forde that forced the Lions (3-1, 2-0) to turn the ball over on downs.
Seven plays later, Gremillion connected on his second career field goal, a 25-yarder that gave the Demons a 20-17 lead.
From there, Southeastern Louisiana’s offense found its groove, scoring on three consecutive drives to build a 37-20 lead with 52 seconds left in the quarter.
The Lions tallied 201 yards in the third quarter while holding Northwestern State to 36, swinging the momentum to the visitors, who won their eighth straight in the series.
“I think we lost focus and attention to detail,” said junior linebacker Adrion Robertson, who had a 20-yard run on a fake punt in the first half.
Robertson’s 20-yard ramble extended a drive that ended without points when the Demons came up short on a 4th-and-1 from the SLU 15. It marked the only time in five red zone trips Northwestern State came up without points.
The Demons were able to overcome that drive to tie things at the half behind a pair of Shelton Eppler touchdown passes – a 26-yarder to Quan Shorts in the first quarter and a 19-yarder to Kendrick Price in the second that followed the Demons’ first strip sack of the game.
Robertson caught Virgil from behind, and Darius Whitfield recovered the fumble, setting up Eppler’s third-down toss to Price, who hauled in his first career touchdown pass.
What the Demons could not overcome were 13 total penalties, 10 in the second half.
“That’s one thing we really haven’t faced in four weeks aside from the first quarter of the Midwestern State game,” Laird said. “I’ve got to look at the film to see if they’re effort penalties or were they not where they were supposed to be. You have (13) penalties, it’s hard to overcome that.”
Eppler added a fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Shorts, who enjoyed his second double-figure catch game of the year, finishing with 11 catches for 110 yards and two touchdowns. Akile Davis added a career-high 11 catches for 103 yards, his first 100-yard receiving game.
Eppler’s 333 yards moved his career total to 4,048, placing him fourth in NSU school history, moving up seven places Saturday night.
“It’s pretty frustrating that we can’t put together a full game,” Shorts said. “We came out so hot in the first half, and we wanted to take that momentum to the second half. We couldn’t get it done. We have to get back to work (Sunday) and get ready for the next game.”