Resilient Demons fall short against No. 7 Nicholls in opener

NSU offensive lineman Kenny Sheldon lifts running back Aubrey Scott into the air after Scott...
NSU offensive lineman Kenny Sheldon lifts running back Aubrey Scott into the air after Scott runs 80 yards for a touchdown Saturday in a 31-24 loss to No. 7 Nicholls.(Chris Reich/NSU Photographic Services)
Published: Mar. 7, 2021 at 2:41 PM CST
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NATCHITOCHES, La. (NSU Sports Information) – Trailing by two scores in the fourth quarter, Northwestern State’s offense kicked into gear and pieced together its most impressive drive Saturday to put No. 7 Nicholls on the ropes with 5:40 remaining.

But a Demons’ defense that dug in its heels for most of Saturday against a high-powered Nicholls offense couldn’t produce another turnover or stop.

The Colonels (3-0, 1-0 Southland Conference) ate up the rest of the clock, and NSU (0-1, 0-1 SLC) fell just short of an in-state upset in a 31-24 loss in the Demons’ first action in 471 days.

“I couldn’t be more proud of this group, and we’ve talked about 471 days to come out here and play for 60 minutes,” said NSU head coach Brad Laird. “We’re disappointed in the scoreboard, but we showed what we’re about in the way they fought and competed.

“We got down 21-7 and were able to battle back and give ourselves a chance to win.”

Quarterbacks Kaleb Fletcher and Zach Clement split drives Saturday, but it was Fletcher who led the drive that cut the Colonels’ edge to one score in the fourth quarter.

Fletcher picked up a fourth down with his legs on a 17-yard scramble before finding senior receiver Gavin Landry for a 13-yard touchdown with 5:40 left. The junior finished with 49 passing yards on 8-of-17 and another 19 yards on the ground.

Clement, a redshirt freshman playing in his first two career games, finished with 18 yards passing on 5-of-13.

Junior running back Scooter Adams gained 19 yards with a Nicholls penalty tacked on to jumpstart the drive.

“In that moment, knowing we had to score in the fourth quarter, it’s good to see our guys convert there,” Laird said. “We put ourselves in a position to win, and we made plays on that possession to get in that position.

“The defense responded well tonight down 21-7, but I think third down (both offensively and defensively) was big in the game. We couldn’t get off the field, and Nicholls sustained drives.”

Landry’s touchdown catch is his second straight game against Nicholls to reach the end zone and third straight game to score. His last game was Oct. 17, 2019, against Central Arkansas in which he tore his ACL.

The Colonels compiled 545 offensive yards and converted 9-of-19 on third down, including a pair of third downs on the final drive to ice the game.

NSU gained 304 yards and converted 3-of-13 on third down.

Quarterback Lindsey Scott tallied 299 passing yards on 21-of-33 and three touchdowns and added another 91 rushing yards.

Nicholls scored touchdowns on its first two drives despite facing NSU appearing to make stops on both drives.

A fourth-down pass interference call and an overturned fumble recovery aided Nicholls on two scoring drives, capped by a 5-yard Julien Gums touchdown and a Dai’Jean Dixon six-yard touchdown catch from Scott.

NSU responded in between those drives when Adams sprinted 58 yards for a score to match Nicholls 7-7.

The Demons rushed for 237 yards led by freshman Aubrey Scott’s 119 yards in his first collegiate game.

Nicholls scored on consecutive possessions on a pair of Dixon touchdown catches to give the Colonels a 21-7 edge. Dixon finished with seven catches for 115 yards.

But that’s when NSU’s defense stood tall with their backs against the wall. The Demons forced three straight Nicholls punts before forcing two turnovers on the goal line.

Jomard Valsin knocked the ball out of Scott’s hands at the pylon to force a touchback before Shemar Bartholomew intercepted Scott in the end zone on the first drive of the second half.

“I always look to make big plays, but first and foremost, I want to put my teammates in the right positions and feed off of them,” said Valsin, who led NSU with 10.5 tackles. “If they don’t do their job, I can’t do my job.

“The comebacks show that we have courage, have faith in the game plan and have faith in each other. It felt great playing against a ranked team like Nicholls, and coming into the next game, we’ll definitely be better.”

Bartholomew has four interceptions in his last four games dating back to 2019. Senior linebacker Ja’Quay Pough added 10 tackles.

Scott highlighted NSU’s explosive running game with an 80-yard gallop to slice Nicholls’ lead to 21-14 early in the third quarter.

Scott’s run and Adams’ 58-yard run were the longest NSU sprints since Oct. 14, 2017, when Chris Jones (90 yards) and Jared West (62 yards) found daylight against Sam Houston.

“(Explosive runs) is what I’ve felt the offense has been missing, and everybody in the running back room is capable of breaking those runs,” said Scott, a Stonewall native. “We started slow, but we battled for 60 minutes.

“I’m proud of the offensive line for creating gaps and the defense for holding strong – we were doing our jobs, it was just a little too late. I know we came up short, but we’re not done yet.”

Nicholls and NSU traded a pair of short field goals before the Colonels appeared to take control on a David Robinson 42-yard touchdown catch at the beginning of the fourth quarter (31-17).

NSU kicker Eddie Godina made all three extra points and his 25-yard field goal in his debut.

But Fletcher led the Demon drive that put NSU back in the game, only for the Colonels to run out the clock.

The Demons return to action Saturday at Southeastern in the first road game of the season.

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