NSU falls short to Southeastern in Southland showdown
There were plenty of shortfalls contributing to Northwestern State's 27-22 Southland Conference loss Saturday as Southeastern Louisiana remained perfect in league play.
The Demons missed an extra point for the first time this season. They had a punt blocked for the second time in 2012. They lost dynamic returner/receiver/wildcat back Phillip Harvey to a knee injury shortly after halftime, and by then, last week's 100-yard rusher, Rob Walker, was already sidelined with a blow to the back on his second carry. They were down to only two starting offensive linemen. Picking up two early turnovers netted only three points.
But the prevailing factor was the performance by the Lions (3-4 overall, 3-0 in the Southland), whose three wins have come in conference games over McNeese, Lamar and now Northwestern (3-4, 1-2).
"Give credit to Southeastern, they made the plays to win the game and we didn't, period. We had opportunities we did not convert, we had plays in all three phases we did not make, and some of the reason why was that Southeastern made more plays than we did," said Demons' head coach Bradley Dale Peveto.
NSU trailed by double digits three times, but a 1:15-long, 62-yard hurry-up drive ending with quarterback Brad Henderson's 8-yard keeper with 4:08 remaining brought the Demons back within five points. But in keeping with the Demons' fortunes Saturday, an onside kick that wasn't called happened. SLU had 10 players within 15 yards of the ball, and the kick was supposed to be chipped over the two lines of Lions, but Demons' kicker John Shaughnessy hit it fat and the kick was fair caught by SLU.
"You watch the PGA, the best golfers in the world hit it fat. Bad time for that to happen to us. Then Southeastern converted a fourth down and we weren't able to get the ball back until the last 20 seconds," said Peveto.
NSU started the day without its starting right guard and tackle because of injuries, and lost starting left tackle Larry Calcote midway through, just before Harvey was felled, taking away a player leading the Southland and 10th nationally in all-purpose yards (170 per game).
"I'm not going to make excuses about injuries costing us in this game. If somebody goes out, somebody else has to step in and do the job," said Peveto. "That's football."
Southeastern took charge with two straight long (75, 74 yards) scoring drives late in the first and early in the second quarter, going up 14-3. The Demons got a 4-yard Henderson pass to Corey Simmons 6:29 before halftime, but Shaugnessy's PAT hit the upright and bounced back to leave it at 14-9. SLU drove for 12 plays to net a Seth Sebastian 22-yard field goal in the final minute of the half for a 17-9 advantage.
Sebastian added a 30-yarder on SLU's first second-half series. The Demons answered with a 92-yard, nine-play drive capped by true freshman Daniel Taylor's 30-yard scamper on a throwback pass from Henderson, getting within 20-15.
After the Lions rolled up 233 yards at halftime, nearly as many as NSU allowed in the entire game last week while beating Lamar, the Demons stopped most of the bleeding in the final two quarters.
"They had a lot of new wrinkles, a very high tempo, and they had us on our heels defensively in the first half," said Peveto. "We did a better job after halftime, on all but the one drive where they made a great catch (29 yards to Chris Malott) when we had perfect coverage."
That came after Henderson lost the ball when drilled with a vicious, clean hit by SLU's Denzel Thompson, with the Lions getting possession at the NSU 46. Three plays later, Southeastern's Xavier Roberson notched his second rushing TD from the 11 for a 27-15 late in the third quarter.
Henderson stayed down for nearly two minutes, but came back on the next offensive series. Despite being sacked five times, he threw for 234 yards on 21 of 34 aim and was not intercepted, and guided Northwestern on a clutch scoring drive to narrow the gap to one score in the closing minutes.
"We still had a chance to win at the end of the game, when I didn't think we played very well. That says a lot about how hard we competed," said Peveto.
But ultimately, it came down to the Lions making the winning plays. Even discounting Henderson absorbing 30 negative yards in sacks, the Demons managed only 88 rushing yards. SLU shook off losing its top running back for the season a week earlier and posted 148 on the ground.
"Their defense whipped us up front, and when you're dominated at the line of scrimmage, it's hard to run the ball. That was a big factor," said Peveto. "Some of the sacks were protection issues, and on others we might have held the ball too long, and that we won't know until we see the tape. But you can't get sacked like that and be successful.
"On defense, we had a couple of situations where we didn't cover our gaps in run blitzes, and their backs did a nice job of finding open space that we left uncovered. Good job by them, bad on our part," he said. "Now we have an open date to get ready for our Homecoming game and the last four games in the conference race. We'll be better, but for today, my hat's off to Southeastern."
The Demons are open next Saturday, then host Nicholls State on Oct. 27.
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