Demons fall at Louisiana Tech

Louisiana Tech runs away from NSU in the second half with a 51-21 win
Published: Sep. 9, 2023 at 10:35 PM CDT
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RUSTON, La. (KALB) - For a while Saturday night, the Northwestern State football team showed its ability to dig deep and respond against a longtime rival.

However, Louisiana Tech’s litany of big plays – and several missed opportunities for the Demons – gave the homestanding Bulldogs a 51-21 win at Joe Aillet Stadium.

“Too many big plays but also costly penalties,” sixth-year head coach Brad Laird said. “You look at two different situations in that football game, digging ourselves out of the hole being down early to get it to 17-14, and we had some special teams miscues. Then you get it to 31-21 in the second half and had the momentum, but certain penalties showed up at the wrong time.

“That’s two weeks in a row. We’ve got to go back in eval and see what’s causing those and get them corrected.”

Northwestern State (0-2) found itself down 10-0 less than 10 minutes into the game thanks to a pair of explosive plays – Tyre Shelton’s 41-yard touchdown run on the Bulldogs’ opening possession and a 42-yard grab from Kyle Maxwell that set up Jacob Barnes’ 22-yard field goal at the 5:57 mark of the first quarter.

Undeterred the Demons fired back to score 14 of the next 17 points, pulling within three points on Tyler Vander Waal’s 9-yard touchdown run with 5:41 to play in the first half.

Much like a tough fourth quarter in the Demons’ most recent visit to Ruston in 2017, the final 5:41 of the first half gave Louisiana Tech (2-1) enough momentum to weather the Demons’ last best comeback attempt.

The Bulldogs took advantage of a kickoff that went out of bounds to mount a six-play, 55-yard touchdown drive that was capped by Koby Duru’s 11-yard touchdown catch. Just more than two minutes later, Louisiana Tech’s Charvis Thornton ripped off a 30-yard touchdown run one play after a muffed punt snap gave the Bulldogs possession deep in NSU territory.

NSU showed its resolve and its resiliency to start the second half as Trevion Sneed pounced on a fumble at the Tech 30-yard line.

Four plays later, Kolbe Burrell’s 2-yard scoring run pulled the Demons back within 10.

Burrell rushed for a career-best 56 yards and his first touchdown since Oct. 1, 2022. Led by Burrell, the Demons ran for 185 yards – the second-highest total under offensive coordinator Beau Blair.

“We compete to see who’s going to score the first touchdown, who’s going to have the most yards per carry, the most yards period,” Burrell said of the Demons’ four-headed running back committee. “It really helps me get better. It helps all of us get better and makes gameday just another day in the office.”

A week after committing only one turnover, the Demons lost the turnover battle 3-2 Saturday night.

Included in that number was Cedric Woods’ 49-yard interception return that capped Louisiana Tech’s 20-point third quarter surge after Burrell’s touchdown.

The biggest play in the run was Keith Willis Jr.’s 68-yard touchdown run – his second of at least 65 yards in the game.

Willis Jr. finished with 188 yards rushing as the Bulldogs rushed for 357 yards. All four of the Bulldogs’ rushing touchdowns covered at least 30 yards.

“We’ll go in tomorrow, watch film and learn from our mistakes,” said sophomore defensive lineman Kendal Harmon, who finished with a career-high seven tackles. “We’ll come back Tuesday (at practice) and play ball.”

The Demons were whistled for nine penalties, including three in a four-play stretch in the first quarter. NSU saw a pair of first downs nullified by penalty while a late hit extended the Bulldogs’ first touchdown drive of the third quarter.

The difference also was in the plays that were not made. NSU had an opportunity to answer Duru’s second-quarter score, but a dropped pass stopped the drive and opened the door for Louisiana Tech to extend its lead before halftime.

“That’s going to be my message – there are so many of those opportunities,” Laird said. “It shows you how close we are. I truly believe that, because you make a play there and you put the pressure on them, and then you see what happens. We weren’t able to do that whether it was penalties or turnovers in the second half. There are thing you can take out of this game that will make us a better team moving forward.”

The Demons return to action next weekend when they host former Southland Conference rival Stephen F. Austin in NSU’s home opener. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. inside Turpin Stadium.

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