Junior college transfer quarterback Brad Henderson caught fire, completing a school record 13 straight passes to spark a huge second-half rally from a 17-point deficit as Northwestern State prevailed 24-23 over Division II power Delta State Thursday night at Turpin Stadium.
Henderson replaced starter Paul Harris and guided the Demons (1-0) back from a 17-0 halftime deficit with 24 unanswered points, scoring on four of their first five possessions after halftime and fumbling away another chance inside the visitors' 30. Delta State (1-1), last year's Division II runner-up and No. 2 in the division this season, missed a chance to win the game with 10 seconds left on a failed two-point conversion pass.
Northwestern won its 499th all-time game with its second-biggest winning rally since moving into Division I in 1977, topped only by a second-half surge from a 23-0 deficit to win 27-23 in the 2005 opener at Louisiana-Monroe.
"We showed a lot of heart, a lot of character to stay together. We've got some strong roots," said third-year coach Bradley Dale Peveto. "This didn't start in fall camp. This has been a process since 2009 and our strength as a unit held us together tonight against a heck of a Division II team."
Henderson completed his first 13 passes, including a 32-yard touchdown to senior tight end Justin Aldredge less than two minutes into the second half to get NSU on the board. The Demons drew within 17-14 on a 10-play, 61-yard drive capped by a 2-yard Sterling Endsley run, and took the lead on a 3-yard Endsley run set up by a Cashas Pollard interception at the Statesmen's 41-yard line.
After going up 21-17 with 13:49 to go, NSU's kickoff was not fielded by Delta State and the Demons' Justin Evans snagged it at the 27. That produced a 27-yard John Shaughnessy field goal for a 24-17 advantage with 10:29 remaining.
The Demons seemed to have it wrapped up when a pass fell incomplete back at the Delta State 14 on third-and-25. But a late hit on quarterback Micah Davis gave the Statesmen new life, and they moved 71 yards in 11 snaps and scored a touchdown with 10 seconds left on a 13-yard pass from Davis to Tim Smith.
After a timeout, Delta State pulled the kicking team off the field and went for the game-winning two-point conversion. A pass over the middle sailed past the intended receiver, preserving Northwestern's lead.
"We made just enough plays to win," said Peveto. "We made a ton of mistakes that could have cost us. But we kept fighting, we stayed together, we didn't stop believing, and we won the football game. We'll enjoy it and turn the page to LSU (next week's opponent) starting tomorrow."
Davis sneaked in from the 1 to open the scoring and polish up a 98-yard drive late in the first quarter. He hit Lavon Downs with an 8-yard scoring toss 10:05 before halftime, and led a 90-yard, 10-play drive to finish the first half with a 25-yard Matt Dean field goal at the 0:25 mark to move the Statesmen up 17-0 at the half.