NATCHITOCHES - After riding the backs of the defense, which scored on a pair of interception returns, the Northwestern State offense came through just in time to avoid an upset Saturday night as the first carry of true freshman Daniel Taylor's career was a 25-yard touchdown making the difference in a 31-24 win over Division II Arkansas-Monticello on Saturday night.
Taylor's burst over the left side with 5:41 remaining capped a 7-play, 80-yard drive from a struggling offensive unit after UAM kicker Reagan Wise was wide left on a go-ahead 22-yard field goal. Following the Taylor TD, NSU forced a punt with 3:47 to go and held the ball for the game's last eight plays.
Northwestern won its 18th straight over a Division II opponent, dating back to 1994, although the last three wins have all been decided in the closing minutes by a total of 11 points in the past three years. The Demons and Boll Weevils both had their season records go to 1-1.
A 42-yard Brad Henderson to Phil Harvey pass play on third-and-10 from the Demons' 20 was the pivotal one in the game-winning march by NSU.
The Demons rallied to win after UAM scored early in the third quarter to go ahead 24-17. Northwestern got its second defensive touchdown of the night on an interception return to knot the game at 24-all when Cortez Paige dashed 52 yards on a pick-six midway through the third quarter.
Just over a minute into the game, the Demons jumped up 7-0 on a 28-yard interception return by Imoan Claiborne, and five minutes later NSU was up 14-0 after needing to cover only 35 yards on its first series of the night. Hints of a blowout faded soon after.
"We never thought it would be easy, and UAM made us work hard for the win," said Northwestern coach Bradley Dale Peveto. "I'm proud of our guys. We faced a lot of adversity, we overcame a lot of mistakes, and we came from behind and won the game. We found a way.
"Our offense had a rough time but when we had to have it, they took the ball and drove it down the field for the go-ahead points. Then we got them the ball back and they ran out the clock. That's coming through with the game on the line and a lot of other teams didn't do that today," said Peveto.
UAM took its only lead on its first series of the second half after blocking a 48-yard field goal try and returning it to the NSU 30. The Boll Weevils got a 22-yard run up the gut by Damon Wicker on fourth-and-2 to go up 24-17.
The game was tied at 17 entering the third quarter as UAM went long distance to rally from a fast 14-0 deficit. The Boll Weevils got on the board on a 60-yard catch and run by receiver Jamal Nixon, who broke three tackles while knifing through the heart of the Demons' secondary.
Otherwise, NSU's defense performed admirably while the offense was unable to get untracked. The tone was set when Brashard Booker intercepted a pass and ran it 16 yards down to the UAM 13. Three false start penalties and a sack forced a 47-yard John Shaughnessy field goal to make it 17-7 Demons with 3:37 to go in the opening period, but an unsportsmanlike conduct flag backed up the kickoff and the Boll Weevils took advantage. Blake Prince found a seam and dashed 82 yards on the return to trim the margin to 17-14.
The defense answered the bell midway through the second quarter after Henderson's option pitch was offline and UAM's Barry Boney recovered at the Demons' 5. Three plays went nowhere and the Boll Weevils had to settle for a 22-yard Wise field goal and the 17-17 tie.
It didn't look close early. On the game's first series, the Demons' Claiborne stepped in front of a pass and took it 28 yards down the NSU sideline just 66 seconds into play for a 7-0 lead.
Then a short UAM punt and a personal foul set the Demons up at the visitors' 35. Seven plays later, on a fourth-and-1, tailback Sidney Riley burst free over left guard and scored from 15 yards away to make it 14-0 NSU.