NATCHITOCHES - Northwestern State football coach Bradley Dale Peveto could not have scripted a better start to the Demons' Homecoming game Saturday night, or a better sendoff into an open date week for his team.
Northwestern scored on the game's opening play, getting a 24-yard fumble return touchdown by linebacker Lamont Simmons on a turnover forced by safety Jamaal White. Just over four minutes into the contest against Southland Conference rival Southeastern Louisiana, the Demons led 17-0 on the way to a smashing 51-17 triumph in front of 10,285 at Turpin Stadium.
"Going into an open date, two weeks before we play again (Oct. 29) at Texas State, this is the way you'd draw it up if you could," said Peveto. "It's terrible going into an open week after a loss. You want to go in on a high note and we did.
"It was probably the best team win we've had collectively since I've been here. We won offensively, defensively and on special teams. Our special teams had an exceptional night with so many big plays. We're right where we need to be into the open week," he said.
Northwestern (4-3 overall, 3-1 in the Southland, tied for second) cracked the 50-point barrier in a Southland game for the first time since routing Sam Houston State 59-3 in 1998. It was the highest point total by the Demons since a 63-12 romp over Division II Southeast Oklahoma in 2008 and the most points against a Division I team since 2004 and a 52-6 romp over Texas Southern.
White had a hand in 20 points. After forcing the fumble returned for a TD, the junior safety recovered NSU's onside kickoff on the next play, a predetermined gamble which produced a 44-yard John Shaughnessy field goal and a 10-0 lead less than two minutes into the game. Later in the first half, he intercepted a pass and returned it 15 yards to the SLU 30, leading to a 24-yard Shaughnessy field goal. In the second half, he had another interception that halted an SLU drive and launched a 76-yard march to a 37-yard Justin Aldredge touchdown catch and run with a Brad Henderson pass. White also led NSU with six tackles.
Another standout was sophomore tailback D.J. Palmer, who posted NSU's first 100-yard rushing game in 13 contests with 102 yards on 15 carries - including an 82-yard touchdown just 4:25 into the contest on a toss sweep right that he cut back to the left and outran defenders to the end zone. It was the Demons' longest run since Derek Johnese scored from 82 yards against SLU in 2003. Palmer added 25 yards on two pass catches.
"I thought D.J. got some hard yards, ran tough, and had an 82-yarder that he took the distance," said Peveto. "Our backs ran hard and our offense did a real good job."
Fellow sophomore Rumeall Morris scored twice, on a 28-yard pass from Henderson and an 11-yard run. The Demons ran for 223 yards, threw for 160, turned it over only once on an interception thrown by backup quarterback Don Canyon, and held possession for 37 of the 60 minutes.
"When your defense scores the first touchdown of the game, that's a great sign. That gave us the momentum to get going," said Henderson. "D.J. had his long run and then we hit the throwback pass to Rumeall, and everything was just clicking."
NSU led 27-3 after one quarter but didn't add on more before halftime. Phillip Harvey reignited the Demons by taking the second half kickoff 99 yards for the second-longest runback in school history behind a 100-yarder by Kenny Thompson in 1961. He added a pair of 47-yard returns to tie a school record with 193 yards on kickoffs, set by Vic Nyvall in 1969 and tied by James Brock in 1992. With 555 kickoff return yards so far, he is tracking toward shattering the single-season record of 710 by Toby Zeigler in 2004, while his 1,562 career yards are just 81 away from breaking the Demons' career mark by Dennis Smith from 1986-89.
Shaughnessy had another good game, hitting field goals of 44, 24 and 45 yards to extend the junior kicker to a perfect 8-for-8 in conference play and 10-of-12 this season. Robert Weeks set the single season record for NSU with 18 in 2006.
The Demons get Sunday and Monday off, returning for workouts the following three days before a long weekend break, said Peveto.
NSU has three conference games remaining, beginning Nov. 5 at home against Central Arkansas in a 3 o'clock contest.