Coming from the heart of Louisiana, the Northwestern State Demons head into Saturday’s game against Texas Tech with poise and confidence, relying heavily on their senior leadership and veteran offense.
The Demons, coached by Bradley Dale Peveto, return 16 starters from last year, including nine on offense and seven on defense. Despite strong defensive play, the team struggled to a 5-6 record, finishing fourth in the Southland Conference.
A tough non-conference schedule gave the Demons a difficult start to the season, with a 46-point loss at LSU and a 33-point loss at SMU.
Northwestern State senior quarterback Brad Henderson said the visit last season to Baton Rouge, La., was a foundation for Saturday’s game against Tech.
“Communication will be the key and that’s a thing we learned against LSU, that our communication has to be really good,” he said. “That experience helped a lot.”
In the 49-3 loss to LSU last season, Henderson completed 16 of 26 passes for 74 yards and one interception, while also rushing for seven yards on five carries.
His favorite target, senior wide receiver Phil Harvey, was only able to record one catch for one yard in the game. Both players said they feel more confident after a year of improvement and their level of teamwork will be pivotal in deciding the outcome.
“We need to play as a team,” Harvey said. “If we play as a team, we can play with anybody. We just want to win. ‘Beat Tech,’ that’s all we talk about.”
In order to take down the Red Raiders, the Demons will need to try and match Tech’s offensive firepower. Last year, Tech produced 480 yards per game, compared to Northwestern State’s 283.4 yards per game, which tied for last in the Southland Conference. Although the Demons’ production from last season wasn’t ideal, Harvey said the Northwestern State offense will give Tech a difficult time, especially after recent improvements in the ground attack.
“Our running game is getting better and better, and our offensive line is getting better and better,” he said. “All we have to do is execute and they won’t be able to stop anything.”
Harvey said it’s one thing to score points on the Red Raiders, but not allowing them to retaliate with touchdowns of their own will be the biggest challenge for the Demons.
“Figuring out what they do is not the complicated thing, it’s stopping it,” he said. “It’s going to be a great test for our team and we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
Senior defensive end Wade Williams said he has tremendous respect for the Tech offense, especially the quarterback play of Seth Doege. Williams said the key to winning Saturday’s game is to force Doege into making bad decisions.
“You hope for sacks but if you can make him make a mistake, throw an interception here or there, and get in his head, that’s kind of the way you can win a big game like this,” he said. “We’re coming to play, we understand that they’re a bigger school, but we didn’t prepare this whole week to lose and we didn’t prepare this whole summer to lose.”
In order to come away with the victory, Peveto said his defense needs to be on the field as little as possible. He gave an example of the Tech - Texas State matchup from last year, citing the Bobcats defense playing 106 snaps in their 50-10 defeat against the Red Raiders.
In a decisive 41-7 victory, Iowa State’s defense played only 65 snaps against the Tech defense. So, Peveto said, the goal is clear for Northwestern state: keep the defense off the field.
“Offense and defense is going to complement each other in this game,” he said. “We have to get off the field, get the ball back, and the offense has got to make first downs, chew the clock, keep the defense off the field and get points. That’s kind of the key to success.”
Williams said another factor in determining the winner is the ability of Northwestern State to handle the loud fans at Jones AT&T Stadium. While many of the Demons were able to get some experience in a noisy atmosphere at LSU last year, there are still several freshmen and transfer students who will need to adjust to the hectic playing environment.
“We have a bunch of young kids that are coming in to play, and in that kind of situation, a lot of them can lose their cool and just be overwhelmed by the size of the stadium and the fan base,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of older guys that will help us out with this particular game because it’s such a larger arena, it has such a great fan base, and it’s an honor for us to play there.”
Harvey said coping with the crowd volume will not be a problem.
“I just try to black it out as much as I can,” he said. “It’s going to be loud, regardless, but you got to get used to it.”
If the Demons can work through the difficult playing environment, keep their defense off the field as much as possible and force mistakes on defense, they have a shot at an upset, Peveto said.
He also said the main issue between Football Championship Subdivision and Football Bowl Subdivision teams is the depth, or lack thereof. Peveto said many FBS teams are able to hang with their FCS opponent until about the fourth quarter, where they just tire out and don’t have the sufficient replacements. Henderson said all Northwestern State needs to do is get into a position where it is in the game at the end of the game.
“We have to keep competing and be in the game by the time the fourth quarter comes,” he said. “Texas Tech is known for scoring a lot of points and they make plays on defense, so my thing is we want to go in and be in a situation to win the game in the fourth quarter.”
Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. Saturday at Jones AT&T Stadium.
“We’re going to win this game for our team, for our town and to represent ourselves very well,” Williams said.