NATCHITOCHES, La. -- For the second straight week, Northwestern State football players sprinted onto the field following a win.
The Demons danced on the Turpin Stadium turf Saturday following a 26-23 win after Abilene Christian kicker Nik Grau missed a 34-yard field goal in overtime.
The winning streak is NSU’s first since late 2015, and the stretch started when senior kicker Eric Piccione was dogpiled after making a 36-yard game-winner against Houston Baptist this past week.
On Saturday, Piccione was the hero again, making a career-high four field goals, which ties a school record held by two other kickers. The League City, Texas, native made attempts from 43, 45 and 43 yards in regulation before knocking through a 39-yarder in overtime for the Demons (3-6, 3-4 Southland Conference).
“We have a swagger about us now, and the weight’s been lifted off our shoulders,” Piccione said. “I adjusted from my mistakes last week and moved forward.
“I kept it simple and trusted my ability. I treated the overtime kick the same as all the other kicks. I don’t think of them differently than extra points.”
Piccione missed three kicks into the wind this past week at HBU, but he nailed kicks of 43 and 45 yards into a decent wind Saturday.
His counterpart Grau made just 3-of-7 attempts, including missing his last three tries.
The overtime win is NSU’s first since 2010 when the Demons knocked off Sam Houston State.
The NSU defense stood tall in the second half, holding ACU (2-7, 2-5 SLC) to six points after halftime.
The Wildcats piled up 423 yards (348 passing), but NSU had an important goal-line stand at the beginning of fourth quarter in which ACU had first-and-goal from the 1, resulting in a 19-yard Grau field goal.
“I hadn’t seen a (goal-line stand) in a long time, and the interior linemen and linebackers weren’t going to be budged,” said NSU head coach Jay Thomas. “What an awesome feeling, there’s nothing like this.
“Our field goal team was outstanding, from Piccione, to the protection, to the hold. Both the offense and defense overcame adversity tonight, and we’re peaking at the right time.”
Senior running back Chris Jones had his third 100-yard rushing game with 110 yards, leading to a second-best total of 210 rushing yards. Jones plunged in from 1 yard out on fourth down to give NSU a 7-3 edge in the first quarter.
Freshman quarterback Kaleb Fletcher, who played the entire second half after starter Clay Holgorsen injured his shoulder, rushed for 57 yards and threw for another 39.
Trailing 17-13 at halftime, Fletcher led a 62-yard touchdown drive capped by his 14-yard scoring run. He also completed a 21-yard pass to senior Bryson Bourque.
“I was nervous at first, but my team had my back and gave me the confidence I needed,” said Fletcher, who rotated with Holgorsen in the first half. “That drive to start the third quarter gave the whole team confidence.”
NSU won a game that featured five lead changes and three ties.
Piccione’s 43-yard field goal tied the game at 23-23 with 8:56 left in the fourth quarter, aided by a 29-yard Stadford Anderson run (34 yards total).
ACU quarterback Luke Anthony threw for 345 yards and two touchdowns, both to receiver Carl Whitley.
Whitley caught scores 6 and 34 yards, the second of which came on fourth down and handed the Wildcats a 17-10 edge. Whitley finished with five catches for yards, complementing Troy Grant (7-79) and Trevor Crain (3-93).
NSU will continue its run for an undefeated November (which includes an Oct. 28 win at Houston Baptist) when the Demons head to McNeese on Nov. 11.
“We’ve won two straight now, and our goal is 4-0,” said senior linebacker Peyton Guidry, who had 10 tackles behind leader Ryan Reed with 12. “We’ve got two more to go, and we’re hoping this momentum helps us get the last two.”