NATCHITOCHES -- Nobody with the Northwestern State football team was looking past Texas A&M last week with an eye on this Saturday’s home opener against Grambling.
But there’s no understating the excitement the Demons have felt for months about playing the Tigers in Turpin Stadium. A summer-long promotional campaign by the NSU Athletics department has focused on the 6 p.m. matchup, the first home appearance for the program under the leadership of new head coach Brad Laird.
Adding fuel to the fire is a determination to perform much better than NSU did in its 59-7 loss to the Aggies last Thursday.
“We didn’t have the best execution out there,” said senior tight end Kalen Meggs before Tuesday afternoon’s full pads practice. “We know that when we do what we’re supposed to do, we can play with a lot of teams. We didn’t do that consistently last week and we have to be much more consistent this game. We’re ready to show that we’re better than that.”
NSU posted 251 total yards, but only 21 rushing despite not allowing a sack. A 71-yard connection between Clay Holgorsen and junior receiver Jazz Ferguson was the only touchdown for the visitors, who missed a pair of field goals.
Senior receiver Bryson Bourque has been anticipating the Grambling game since offseason workouts began in January.
“It’s been a long time coming. Last week at A&M, there were 95,000 rooting against us, and so to be able to come home and have friends and family come watch us at home, it’s a great opportunity,” he said.
Memories, and film study, of last season’s 23-10 loss at Grambling are key in the Demons’ preparation, said Bourque. The Tigers (0-1 after a 49-17 loss at UL-Lafayette) return five first-team and five second-team Preseason All-Southwestern Athletic Conference defenders.
“You can still see similarities in their defense, so there are some things we can take from last year’s film to prepare for Saturday,” said Bourque. “For the guys who were on the team last year, we still have a chip on our shoulder and want to take care of unfinished business against a quality opponent.”
Bourque said the Demons’ pass protection will be a key against the Tigers.
“Our offensive line did a great job last week of keeping the Aggies off our quarterbacks. That’s another big emphasis because Grambling likes to do a lot of tricky things up front,” he said.
Head coach Brad Laird said NSU will again play two quarterbacks, senior Clay Holgorsen and junior Shelton Eppler, who combined to go 18 of 35 for 230 yards without an interception or a sack in the opener.
“Both moved the ball, both made good decisions, both protected the ball and both threw the ball effectively deep,” he said. “Each of those guys deserves to play.”
Eppler started and threw for 105 yards on 9 of 16 aim, connecting with Ferguson on a 44-yarder. Holgorsen posted 125 passing yards, going 9 of 19. They were the first pair of NSU passers since 2006 to each post at least 100 yards passing in a game.