NATCHITOCHES – Third-year head coach Brad Laird wanted to see better execution from his Northwestern State football team in its second scrimmage of the fall Friday afternoon.
The Demons gave their leader all he wanted in an approximately 100-play scrimmage that covered numerous situations inside a sun-splashed Turpin Stadium.
“It was good to get 100-plus snaps, especially considering we didn’t know how many we were going to be able to get,” Laird said. “Right from the get-go, you saw offensively a (nine-)play drive, getting points right off the bat. That got the offense going, building on the momentum from the end of the first scrimmage.”
The Demon offense moved at a crisper pace than in the initial scrimmage of the fall on Oct. 25, tallying four touchdowns through the air and adding another on a 20-yard run by quarterback Kaleb Fletcher on the first play of a red zone sequence.
All three quarterbacks – Fletcher, Zach Clement and Bryce Rivers – were responsible for leading the Demons to touchdowns as Clement and Rivers each threw a pair of scoring passes.
Caleb Laboy (29 yards from Clement), Javon Antonio (30 yards from Rivers), Levar Gunms (37 yards from Clement) and Coby McGee (20 yards from Rivers) were on the receiving end of the scoring passes as the NSU receivers authored perhaps the biggest improvement from scrimmage one to scrimmage two.
“You saw our receivers step up and make plays throughout the scrimmage,” Laird said. “You saw them make big strides from fall game one to game two. They made the one-on-one plays you have to make. They got open and made plays in the open field. It was good to see the big jump in improvement from game one to game two.”
Antonio had perhaps the catch of the day, outjumping a defensive back to pull in his 30-yard scoring catch from Rivers along the far sideline.
Catches like that, along with a big catch and run from McGee in a shadow-of-the-goalpost situation, lent credence to the confidence the NSU offense felt it built in the final two-minute drill of the fall’s first scrimmage.
On that drive, Marquise Bridges made a key 30-yard catch to set up an Eddie Godina field goal. Despite the 12 days that passed between scrimmages, the momentum was there, beginning with a 10-play, 72-yard drive that ended with Godina’s 25-yard field goal to start Friday’s scrimmage.
“The biggest strides we made were being consistent catching the ball, being consistent running routes and being consistent making plays,” said Gumms, who hauled in four passes for 63 yards. “That first scrimmage, we were dropping balls. The defense kind of got in our heads. We’ve worked extra every day after practice.
“We definitely had the momentum coming in. When we make a play, everyone gets hyped up. That helps us get better.”
Fletcher had the offense’s lone score on the ground, but the Demons ran the ball well throughout the two-hour scrimmage, highlighted by a 64-yard run by Erik Hart, who finished the day with 85 yards on six carries.
Fletcher added a 35-yard scramble on the first drive of the scrimmage and totaled 62 yards on the ground in addition to his 120 passing yards.
“Our guys were physical up front, which led to being able to run the football, which opened things up for our receivers,” Laird said. “What we have to have is the explosive plays in the running game, and you saw that with Erik. When those things happen, things are going to open up in the passing game. It started up front, and it was good to see Erik break away on the back end.”
While the offense was more effective, the Purple Swarm defense notched a pair of takeaways, including a scoop-and-score fumble recovery by Landon King early in the scrimmage that came off a fumbled exchange.
Safety PJ Herrington recorded the other turnover, intercepting a Fletcher pass in the two-minute drill that short-circuited the Demon drive that reached the 25 with 10 seconds to play.
“We’re going to give up plays, even touchdowns, but it’s about how we bounce back,” said Herrington, who added a scrimmage-high 10 tackles. “We bounced back in two-minute. We gave up one or two touchdowns, but we stepped up when it counted and came up with a turnover. My D-line and linebackers ran to the ball and made my job easier. The interception was thrown straight at me because of what they did.”
Eddie Godina 25 FG
Landon King 18 fumble return (No try)
Daniel Justino 20 FG
Caleb Laboy 29 pass from Zach Clement (Justino kick)
Javon Antonio 30 pass from Bryce Rivers (Godina kick)
Levar Gumms 37 pass from Zach Clement (Justino kick)
Godina 33 FG
Kaleb Fletcher 20 run (Godina kick)
Justino 32 FG
McGee 20 pass from Rivers (No try)
Rushing (37-255 1 TD) — Erik Hart 6-85 (1 fumble exchange), Kaleb Fletcher 4-62 TD, Trevor Morgan 12-52, Cayden Dunn 4-16, Scooter Adams 5-15, Bryce Rivers 1-11 (1 fumble exchange), Deus Desire 3-7, Zachary Clement 2-7.
Passing (22-51-2 366, 4 TDs) — Kaleb Fletcher 11-17 120 yards, 1 INT; Zachary Clement 6-18 109 yards, 2 TDs; Bryce Rivers 5-16 157 yards, 2 TDs 1 INT.
Receiving (22-366) — Marquise Bridges 5-89, Levar Gumms 4-63 TD, Coby McGee 3-75 TD, Gavin Landry 3-21, Javon Antonio 2-43 TD, Caleb Laboy 1-29 TD, Cayden Dunn 1-20, Gabriel Ernest 1-4, Aaron Howell 1-10, Erik Hart 1-12.
PJ Herrington 10 tackles, 1 INT; Keldrick Ward Jr. 3 tackles, 1 PBU; Jomard Valsin Jr. 3 tackles, 1 QB hurry; Malik Carey 3 tackles; Adrion Robertson 3 tackles; Keenan Leachman 2 tackles, 1 PBU; Tobias Williams II 2 tackles, 1 PBU; Chandler Moncrief 2 tackles, QB hurry; Cedric Anderson 2 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 PBU, QB hurry; Dante Thomas 2 tackles; Landon King 2 tackles, 1 FR; Johnathan Hudson 2 tackles; Nic Allen 2 tackles, 1 TFL; Kyle Moore 1 tackle, TFL; Fred Lee 1 tackle, 1 INT, 1 PBU; Ray Johnson Jr. 1 tackle; Bishop Breaux 2 tackles; Malik Williams 1 tackle, 1 sack, 1 QB hurry; Race Moser 1 tackle, 1 TFL, 1 QB hurry; Princeton Malbrue 1 tackle; Christopher Larry 1 tackle; Nathalohn Nanai 1 tackle; Isaiah Longino 1 tackle; JaBralen Yarber 1 tackle; John Alex-Perkins 2 QB hurries.