Slow starts plague Demons in loss at No. 12 Nicholls

NATCHITOCHES – Slow starts in each half put the Northwestern State football team in a hole Saturday afternoon at 12th-ranked Southland Conference foe Nicholls.


Despite digging themselves a 14-point deficit in the first half, the Demons put themselves in position to tie things early in the second quarter. Similarly, after a field goal as the clock hit 0:00 at halftime and an early third-quarter Nicholls touchdown put the Demons behind 31-7, Northwestern State found itself with a pair of second-half chances to make it a one-score game.


The next step for the Demons will be to convert on those opportunities.


“Those are opportunities that we, in all three phases, have yet to take advantage of,” second-year head coach Brad Laird said. “You get an opportunity in the first half to tie the game up and sustain momentum. Instead, they stop us, make a field goal and it’s 24-7 at halftime.


“You come out and want to start fast in the second half, and they get the big (60-yard) kickoff return for a short field and score. Then it’s 31-7. Twice in the second half, we cut it to 10. They miss a field goal, and we get a turnover on downs. We could never convert those to put Nicholls on their heels. On the road against a good team, you have to do that. It goes back to the consistency we’ve talked about.”


For the second time in the first three Southland Conference games of the season, Northwestern State’s offense strung together three consecutive second-half touchdown drives.


Saturday’s string of scores twice turned what had been a 24-point deficit to 10 points at 31-21 on Gavin Landry’s first career touchdown catch – a 6-yarder in the third quarter – and 38-28 on Akile Davis’ one-handed, 9-yard scoring grab.


Those scores were part of a 4-for-4 afternoon in the red zone for Northwestern State, which scored touchdowns on each of its trips inside the Nicholls 20.


“You look at Shelton Eppler in the second half, wow,” Laird said. “He made great decision, put the ball where it had to be, and the receivers made plays. Akile had the big night and Quan, too. It was good to see Gavin with a touchdown. Those guys, you see that in practice from them, and it’s great to see it come to fruition in a game. That didn’t just happen Saturday. Those are the same plays they make in practice during the week.”


Despite Eppler’s second 387-yard passing game of the season – and four second-half touchdown passes – the Demons were unable to overcome the slow starts and were left to rue the missed opportunities.


“That’s the thing that’s tough,” Laird said. “You can’t start each half the way we did. Our guys battled in both halves, but you look at the two starts we had in each half.


“Week in and week out, when you look at our conference, you have the opportunity to win games. Starting fast is a key. We’ve shown what we’re capable of doing whether it was the first half at LSU, the first half against Southeastern or what we did offensively in the second half (at Nicholls). We’ve shown what we’re capable of. Now we have to put it together for 60 minutes in all three phases, and I’m looking forward to the opportunity to do that Saturday (against Central Arkansas).


Photo: Northwestern State’s Gavin Landry caught a career-high 6 passes for a career-best 54 yards and his first career touchdown at Nicholls on Saturday. Credit: Chris Reich/NSU Photographic Services