Jones’ strip and recovery at the Bears’ 13 led to Adkins’ 4-yard keeper on third down, helping forge a 17-all tie and erasing Missouri State’s only lead. The Demons moved ahead on their next series when Adkins found a wide-open Shakeir Ryan on the left side of the field and the true freshman flanker from Lafayette-Northside outran defenders down the Bears’ sideline to complete a 51-yard strike that made the difference, even after Missouri State blocked the PAT with 2:28 left in the third period.
NSU’s defense made two big stops in the final quarter. The Bears had to settle for a 44-yard field goal try, which failed with 11:35 remaining, and then lost it on downs at the NSU 20 with 3:27 to go. The Demons got one first down, punted with 25 seconds left and the losers didn’t threaten to score in the waning seconds.
The outcome successfully launched Jay Thomas’ head coaching career with Northwestern and was the Demons’ first road win in a season opener since a 27-23 comeback victory at Louisiana-Monroe in 2005.
“We just hung tough through the ups and downs,” said Thomas. “Our guys battled hard. Theirs did too. We made some plays with the ball and when the game was on the line, our defense really came through. It’s a sweet win, coming on the road, and coming the way it did.”
Adkins used 10 different receivers as he threw for 233 yards on 24-37 aim, despite two interceptions, at the Missouri State 8 in the first half and in the Bears’ end zone in the fourth quarter. The Demons ran 81 plays to 68 for the Bears and outgained them 405-312, working against a Missouri State defense that returned 10 starters.
The Demons kept the Bears on their heels with the rapid-fire, no-huddle offense throughout the first half, but only a 44-yard Chris Moore field goal as the clock expired provided a 10-7 edge for the visitors. NSU had a 200-89 yardage advantage, and ran 42 plays to 23 by Missouri State in the first two quarters.
Northwestern crossed midfield on six of seven possessions, but came up empty on four of them, with the worst miss coming midway through the first quarter when the Bears’ Andrew Beisel intercepted Adkins at the 8. Missouri State didn’t make a first down until after the visitors took a 7-0 lead on Daniel Taylor’s 30-yard run on a delay over right tackle 40 seconds into the second quarter.
Afterward, the Bears roared downfield on their only extended series of the half, moving 75 yards in 11 plays, converting a fourth-and-inches at the NSU 2 on a quarterback sneak by Kierra Harris, who repeated the play on the next snap for a 1-yard score to knot the score at 7-all.
Moore, the Demons’ new placekicker, hammered the go-ahead 44-yarder at the halftime horn after a 7-snap, 24-yard drive ending the second quarter. The Demons already had 111 rushing yards at that point, 54 by Taylor on six runs and 43 on 11 carries from Rob Walker. Adkins took advantage of a bend-but-don’t break Bears’ defense, which returned 10 starters from last year, and completed 13 of 18 for 89 yards before intermission.
Missouri State cashed in on a pair of personal foul penalties sandwiched around a 53-yard bomb from Harris to Julian Burton, and Harris again sneaked in from inches out to push the Bears ahead 14-10 less than two minutes into the third quarter. NSU then had its’ first 3-and-out offensive series, an ominous shift in momentum to open the second half.
A Lesley Deamer sack helped limit Missouri State to a 42-yard Austin Wilmer field goal on the ensuing series as the Bears bumped the lead to 17-10 with 8:57 to go in the third period. But Jones’ fumble recovery, which came two plays after a Missouri State goal line stand at the 1, flipped the momentum again and triggered the two-TD turnaround that carried NSU to victory.