RUSTON -- Three years after Northwestern State pulled off an improbable victory against Louisiana Tech, the Demons scraped and clawed for three quarters to put themselves in a position for a possible repeat.
But three Louisiana Tech touchdowns in a six-minute span dashed any NSU upset hopes in the Demons’ 52-24 loss to open the season in front of a crowd of 24,002, bigger than any Tech home crowd since the start of the 2015 season.
NSU (0-1) erased a 14-point halftime deficit with a pair of touchdowns in the first two minutes of the second half to tie the Bulldogs at 24, a score that stood until the final minute of the third quarter.
After NSU’s Corban James forced a fumble on the opening second-half kickoff (Lyn Clark recovery), running back Chris Jones plunged in from three yards to slice Tech’s lead to 24-17.
The Demons forced their third and final turnover on the ensuing possession when linebacker Obinna Iheoma stripped Louisiana Tech quarterback J’Mar Smith with Nick Pierotti recovering to set up NSU’s second score of the half.
Senior receiver Bobby Chan-Chan tossed a 27-yard touchdown to Lucas Morgan on a trick play in which quarterback J.D. Almond threw a backwards pass to Chan-Chan. Chan-Chan threw for 45 yards on two attempts, completing an 18-yard pass to Almond on NSU’s first offensive play.
“We saw lots of good things tonight, but it wasn’t the outcome we wanted, and we’re disappointed with that,” said NSU coach Jay Thomas. “We’ve got to work on ball security (three NSU turnovers), and we were concerned with conditioning after practicing in cloud cover or inside because of Hurricane Harvey.
“We fought back to tie the game at 24, and then turnovers and field position got us a little bit, and the game got away from us. But I’m proud of how these kids fought.”
Chan-Chan added 77 yards on seven catches to lead all receivers.
An NSU defense that battled Tech (1-0) for three quarters finally gave ground as Tech turned short fields into points.
After the Bulldogs pieced together a 74-yard drive capped by a Jaqwis Dancy 4-yard touchdown run, Tech scored on drives of 47 and 36 yards following interceptions by backup quarterback Clay Holgorsen.
Starter J.D. Almond, who played with poise as he threw for 162 yards and a touchdown, caught an 18-yard pass and ran for 11 yards, left the game with body cramps in the middle of the third quarter and the game tied.
“I’ve never dealt with cramps before, so I was pretty frustrated,” said Almond, who returned in the middle of the fourth quarter. “I felt absolutely comfortable in there, and we showed our potential with big plays.
“We’ll hold our head up coming out of here, and we want to build off this one as we prepare for Grambling next week.”
Holgorsen, who had one interception bounce off a receiver’s hands, threw for 49 yards on 7-of-17.
Linebacker Nick Pierrotti led the Demons with eight tackles, spearheading a defense that held Louisiana Tech to 346 yards through three quarters (497 overall).
“We had a lot of good things happen, but we have to focus on the little things,” Pierotti said. “We were tied at 24, but turnovers and big plays hurt us.
“We hung right there with one of the best teams in Conference USA, but we have to stiffen up more and force more turnovers to give our offense more of a chance.”
Thomas said the Demons matched the Bulldogs’ physical play up front.
“I thought (defensive coordinator Brad Laird) called an outstanding game,” Thomas said. “We just have to tackle a little better, get better on the perimeter and on our deep coverage.
“But Tech’s a good football team, and they have been for a long time now. We’ll get better in both of these areas."