Piccione’s last-play field goal lifts Demons to 10-7 triumph at HBU

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HOUSTON – Eric Piccione wasn’t scared lining up on the last play of regulation for the game-winning 36-yard field goal. Not even knowing he’d missed for the first time all season, three times, earlier.

What scared him was running downfield, away from his delirious Northwestern State teammates, trying to avoid being the foundation of a joyful dogpile after a rugged 10-7 triumph at Houston Baptist Saturday night.

“It hurts down at the bottom of that pile,” said the senior from nearby League City, who had three game-deciding field goals before he got to NSU last year, but never one on the final play. “I loved it. It’s the best feeling ever.”

The game was a scoreless slugfest until the final five minutes, when the Demons finally completed a drive, getting a 22-yard bolt up the middle by Chris Jones to finish a 65-yard march in five snaps for a 7-0 NSU advantage after Piccione’s extra point.

But HBU went 71 yards in 13 plays after the kickoff, staying alive with a fourth-down interference call in the end zone, and tied the game with 1:05 left on a 2-yard Terrance Peters reception and Alec Chadwick’s PAT.

Piccione immediately began readying himself for a potential clinching kick. The chances soared when Hayden Bourgeois returned the Huskies’ kickoff 35 yards to the NSU 48 with 57 seconds left.

Two straight Clay Holgorsen throws to sure-handed Cameron Lazare, going 12 and 15 yards, got NSU to the 21 with 30 seconds left. Head coach Jay Thomas never considered that Piccione, 6-for-6 this season and 16-of-21 in his two seasons at NSU coming into the contest, had missed first-half tries from 44, 38 and 37 yards, the latter two into a stiff wind.

“No doubt, we knew Eric would get it done,” said Thomas. “That wind was really tough in the first half. He’s a tough young man. Dustin Burns did a great job on the snap, J.D. Almond was money in the bank on the hold, and Eric hit it perfectly.”

The outcome rewarded a remarkable night by the Purple Swarm defense, which recorded eight sacks and held the losers to 259 total yards while playing without their starting cornerbacks, both out with injuries.

Linebacker Peyton Guidry posted a career-best 14 tackles, a game high, including two sacks, two forced fumbles, a pass breakup and a quarterback hurry. Defensive end Zak Krolczyk made 2.5 sacks as the Demons notched 13 tackles for lost yards and recovered four fumbles.

The Demons halted a four-game losing skid, the last three at the hands of top 25-ranked Southland Conference foes, and improved to 2-6 overall, 2-4 in the league. The Huskies (1-7, 0-5) lost their sixth straight, their first down-to-the-wire outcome.

For NSU, drama was old hat. Losses this month at No. 23 Nicholls and No. 9 Sam Houston were decided in the closing minutes, with those teams scoring the decisive touchdowns with 3:54 and 1:05 remaining, respectively.

“We’ve been on the other side of these and it rips your heart out,” said Thomas. “Our guys battled all night long, played every second of 60 minutes, and found a way to win.”

The Demons recorded 368 total yards, 244 on 23 of 33 passing with one interception by Holgorsen, who consistently got time to throw from the NSU offensive line. Jaylen Watson made seven catches for 97 yards and Lazare snagged six for 66.

“We missed some scoring opportunities, couldn’t finish drives, and you have to give Houston Baptist credit for a lot of that. They are good on defense,” said Thomas. “But we scored on our last two drives. When the pressure was highest, we made the plays to win.”

NSU has two of its last three games at home, beginning next Saturday evening at 6 when Abilene Christian visits Turpin Stadium.

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