Heading into home and Southland opener Saturday, Northwestern State motivated by stunning 2016 loss to Lamar
NATCHITOCHES – As the Northwestern State Demons prepare to kick off the nine-game Southland Conference football season with their home opener Saturday evening against Lamar, they can’t stop thinking about last year’s game against the Cardinals.
The Demons have used last season’s frustrations as motivation throughout the spring, summer and preseason. No pill was more bitter than a last-second 32-31 defeat at Lamar, when the hosts drove for two touchdowns in the final 1:43, sandwiched around an onside kick, after NSU missed a third-and-4 conversion by a yard that could have allowed them to run out the clock.
“We have a sour taste in our mouths since last year. That’s our driving force,” said senior receiver Cameron Lazare, who had a career-high eight catches for 70 yards last week in a 23-10 defeat at Grambling. “At Lamar, we had a win, let it slip through our fingers, and we won’t let that happen again. We went from the peak of the mountain to the bottom of the ocean. It was a sharp drop and it hurts to remember.”
For sophomore defensive tackle Christian Bluiett, the Lamar matchup is high stakes naturally, and last season’s heartbreak ramps up the anticipation for the Cardinals’ visit Saturday night.
The NSU-Lamar contest kicks off at 6 in Turpin Stadium, shown around Louisiana on Cox Sports Television and on Cox cable systems in 16 other states. Outside of Cox cable service, it’s available on ESPN3. General admission tickets are specially discounted at $5, available in advance at NSUTickets.com or at the gates when they open at 4:30 on game day.
“Being from Beaumont, it’s very exciting,” said Bluiett, whose older brother Andrew is a senior offensive lineman for NSU. “With the way the game last year went, it’s especially good to get this rematch on our home turf.”
More pertinent to the outcome Saturday will be growing from lessons learned in the two non-conference games just completed. The Demons dropped decisions at Louisiana Tech and Grambling, with both outcomes settled in the fourth quarter of hotly-contested contests.
“A lot of good things have come out of the first two games. We still have stuff to fix, but I’m very excited for the season,” said Bluiett. “These last two games, I’m hurt that we lost them, but at the end of the day there’s a bigger picture, and that’s the conference season.”
Lazare admitted the team is stinging from starting 0-2, but it’s nothing that can’t be overcome.
“It’s a little frustrating, but I think that’s healthy. We do feel we’re on the brink of success, so we have to keep working, keep pushing forward and keep our mind on the right track,” he said.
“We can put the past in the past and leave it back there. We can turn our whole season around. Really, it’s a new season and we can write our own story.”
Head coach Jay Thomas knows a lesser team wouldn’t have been so competitive in the first two weeks on the road against teams that combined to win 20 games and a pair of bowl games last season.
“It says a lot about the character of this team, and the senior leadership. There’s a lot of fight to this team. We’re so close to getting it done,” he said. “The only way you get over that hump is to go out, work hard, and work on the little things.
“We talk about staying in phase, not losing focus. In game prep it comes down to every man doing what he needs to do to be ready to play the game for 60 minutes and win. It is a battle, and you have to have your mind right.”
While the Demons are confident they’re much improved over last season, Lamar will be, also, he said.
“A new staff there, with a lot of new wrinkles in all three phases, makes for a quality opponent,” said Thomas. “We’ll need to do good job as the game moves along of figuring out what they’re doing and making adjustments. Our guys are doing a great job in that process so far, and we just need to execute and make the plays at the critical times in the game.”
Lamar is 1-1, coming off a 72-6 rout of Texas-Permian Basin, a first-year Division II program. The Cardinals, with practice disrupted due to Hurricane Harvey in their opening week, fell 59-14 at North Texas in their opener.
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