NSU notches first winning season since 2008

NSU notches first winning season since 2008

Jay Thomas earns winning season in first year as head coach of the Demons
NATCHITOCHES – Quarterback Zach Adkins and receiver Louis Hollier had milestone performances Saturday, while Northwestern State's Purple Swarm defense and a ball-control offense helped the Demons contain Stephen F. Austin's explosive offense for a 40-27 NSU triumph in the annual "Battle for Chief Caddo," the largest trophy in sports.

The rivalry game on a chilly, damp day at NSU's Turpin Stadium ended the season for both teams. Northwestern finished 6-6 overall, its best mark since 7-5 2008, and at 3-4 in the Southland Conference football race while SFA ended 3-9 overall and 1-6 in the league.

Adkins threw for 333 yards and Hollier, one of 22 seniors ending their NSU careers, had 165 yards. Both performances ranked 10th on NSU's single-game lists. With seven catches, including touchdowns of 23 and 38 yards, Hollier finished second in school history on the career receptions list with 114, 12 shy of the record.

With his first completion, a 2-yard touchdown pass to Bryant Mitchell, Adkins broke the Demons' 25-year-old single-season pass yardage record set in 13 games by Scott Stoker. The junior college transfer finished with 2,726 yards and also a school-record 21 touchdown passes.

"Chief Caddo," a 7-foot-6, 320-pound statue of a mythical Native American that pays homage to the common heritage of the universities and their hometowns, stayed with the Demons for the first time since 2008. SFA's four-game win streak in the series was the longest by the Lumberjacks since the teams began playing for the trophy in 1961.

SFA, which brought the nation's No. 2-ranked offense (581.3 yards per game) and No. 1 passing game (395.7) in the FCS into the contest, but was held to 465 total yards, only 120 after halftime and just 41 in the fourth quarter as Northwestern protected a 37-24 halftime lead. SFA threw for 315 yards but NSU intercepted three passes, two by junior cornerback Imoan Claiborne, including one on the game's fifth play that he returned untouched for a 48-yard touchdown.

Ignited by that play, the Demons raced to a 16-0 lead just 3:49 into the game. On the first play after the ensuing kickoff, a high snap in a shotgun formation bounded into the end zone and was recovered for a safety by SFA. After the free kick, the Demons needed just five plays to get the Adkins to Mitchell touchdown toss with 11:11 showing in the first quarter.

Hollier's two touchdowns came in the second quarter as NSU's lead wavered between 13 and 20 points. SFA closed within 37-27 early in the third quarter after an 80-yard drive produced only a 23-yard Jordan Wiggs field goal but the Demons answered with a Chris Moore 36-yard field goal on their next series, and neither team scored in the final 20:18.

Northwestern held the ball for 21 of the 30 minutes after halftime, running 43 plays to only 23 for the explosive Lumberjacks. SFA had only six first downs in the second half after getting 19 in the first two quarters.

But the NSU defense played more than one half, despite SFA posting 345 yards by halftime. The Purple Swarm stiffened near the goalline, forcing a failed 32-yard field goal into the wind late in the first period, a 22-yard field goal by Wiggs ending a 13-play drive by the Lumberjacks midway through the second quarter, and the 23-yard field goal early in the third period.

"They have a tremendous offense and we set a goal of holding them to 28 points, which was going to be pretty tough," said Demons' coach Jay Thomas. "It took a combined effort by our defense and our offense. At halftime, coach (defensive coordinator Chris) Boone made some nice adjustments, we changed up some personnel groupings and a couple of coverages, and it paid off. Our offense was productive all day and did a great job grinding the clock away after halftime."

The Demons ran 25 of the game's last 34 plays from scrimmage while holding the Lumberjacks at bay.

"It's a great feeling, to get to six wins, and especially to bring the Chief home to Northwestern," said Thomas, wrapping up his first year as the Demons' head coach. "Especially for a great group of seniors, who deserved to end their careers this way … it's a beautiful way to end it. I wish I could bring them all back. They've been through a lot and they never stopped fighting and doing things right."

Northwestern senior safeties Ryan Sorrell (12 tackles) and Bert White (9) topped the Purple Swarm defense, along with senior linebacker Pat Black, who had 8 stops to finish the season with 112. He entered the day as the leading tackler in the Southland and his closest competition, SFA's senior Ortavious Hypolite, also made 8 tackles and finished with 97.

Senior defensive tackle Lesley Deamer notched only the eighth sack of the year against SFA late in the game near the NSU end zone, pointing at "Chief Caddo" in celebration.

"I don't have the words for what I was feeling then, or now," said Deamer, an all-conference pick as a sophomore who has faced double teams most of the past two seasons. "I have to credit my teammates for being able to make that play and also for making my final game with them one I will always remember."

The Demons set a single-season team offensive record for first downs, posting 27 for a season total of 257, topping the 15-year-old mark set in 14 games by 12. NSU posted 469 total yards, getting 98 yards rushing including a 2-yard TD by junior Garrett Atzenweiler.
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