Demons aim to upset No. 6 Bears for Homecoming

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NATCHITOCHES – Will the third time be the charm?

Northwestern State’s football team squares off against a nationally-ranked opponent for the third straight weekend when No. 6 Central Arkansas visits Turpin Stadium Saturday evening at 6. It’s Homecoming for NSU, with the court and the 2017 N-Club Hall of Fame inductees set for recognition at halftime, and the 1997 Southland Conference champion Demons being honored as Exchange Bank Greats of the Game in the first quarter.

The 2017 Demons have fallen to No. 20 Nicholls (14-10) and No. 7 Sam Houston State (40-36) on the road in their last two games. NSU hopes the homefield advantage, on Homecoming Saturday, might provide the extra edge.

But the Bears (5-1 overall, 4-0 in the Southland) are the unquestioned class of the conference this season. Their place atop the pecking order was secured Sept. 30 when they posted a wire-to-wire 41-30 victory over defending Southland champion Sam Houston State.

“When I first saw Sam Houston (watching them dismantle Nicholls 66-17 on Sept. 23 when the Demons had an open date), I thought they were one of the five best Southland Conference teams I’ve seen in my 21 years in this league. I still do,” said Demons’ head coach Jay Thomas. “Then the next week they went up to UCA and got handled. It was not a fluke. UCA was a playoff team last year, and they’re much better this year. They fit in that list of 5-6 best teams I’ve seen in our conference.”

The Demons (1-5, 1-3) have seen late leads slip away in each of their last two games. NSU has led 100:32 of the last 120 minutes, seeing the go-ahead points scored with 3:54 remaining at Nicholls and 1:02 at Sam Houston.

“We’ve been knocking on the door, but we’ve got to finish a 60-minute game to win it,” said Thomas. “This week is a ground and pound game. UCA is very good in each phase and they’re very physical. This is the toughest of the three, but it’s also the only one of the three that is on our turf and that’s an advantage.”

The Demons had their best total yardage since 2014 last week, posting 518 total yards, and had their highest scoring total in a Southland game since 2015. The production came with three different offensive starters, including two linemen, left tackle Dustin Burns and right guard Andrew McAlister, who stepped in for the injured Johnathan Hubbard and Korliss Johnson.

New starting quarterback Clay Holgorsen guided a turnover-free attack that held possession for 36:01 of the 60 minutes, running a season-best 82 plays. He was 21 of 36 passing for 207 yards with a pair of touchdown passes.

Senior receiver Bobby Chan-Chan, who caught a 29-yard TD throw, also tossed a 14-yarder on a reverse to tight end Lucas Morgan. It was their second scoring connection of the season.

Chan-Chan is one of three receivers tied for the team lead with 21 catches, joined by Cameron Lazare and Marquis Chapman. Senior Chris Jones had his second 100-yard rushing game this year last week, going for 154 on 12 carries, most of it on a 90-yard TD that was the third-longest in school history.

Kicker Eric Piccione nailed field goals of 44, 40 and 31 yards at Sam Houston.

The Purple Swarm defense had two fourth-down stops and came up with three turnovers last week. Senior linebacker Nick Pierotti remains the top tackler with 53, while senior safety Austin Balthazor (36), senior linebacker Chrishard Buhl (35), sophomore safety Ryan Reed (31) and senior linebacker Peyton Guidry (30) follow among NSU’s best stoppers.

The game will be broadcast on the Demon Sports Network, flagshipped by 100.7 FM KZBL in Natchitoches. Affiliates are News Radio 710 KEEL in Shreveport, KBUCK 105.5 FM in Alexandria and 103.1 FM KWLV serving Many and Leesville. There is no live TV coverage, but a webcast using Demon Sports Network audio is available for a nominal fee through NSUDemons.com.

The UCA contest is the first of three Turpin Stadium appearances in the second half of the season. But next Saturday, NSU heads to Houston for its first-ever collision with Houston Baptist.

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