Junior Fred Thomas made an end zone interception in the third quarter to deny UCA a scoring chance, a pivotal play in a landmark win for first-year Demon coach Jay Thomas and his team.
It was the first time the Demons beat a ranked FCS opponent in nine tries, dating back to a 24-19 win at UCA in 2010.
The Demons snapped a three-game skid, improving to 4-5 overall and 1-3 in the Southland. UCA, ranked 15th in the FCS coaches’ poll and 18th in the Sports Network Top 25, dipped to 5-4 overall, 2-2 in conference games.
“I’m elated, for our players, for our coaches and staff, who worked so hard and kept believing in each other,” said Thomas. “I’m happy for our administration and our fans who have been standing behind us. This was a heck of a win over a very good, very, very well-coached program.”
Adkins’ 6-yard TD with 8:05 remaining came on third-and-goal on a quarterback draw, as he knifed through a hole on the left side and darted across the goalline virtually untouched. That boosted NSU ahead 31-20.
The Bears closed within three points with 1:25 to go when Ryan Howard completed a 2-yard fade route to Courtney Whitehead and threw a two-point conversion pass to Thomas Hart. But redshirt freshman receiver Tuff McClain, who caught his first career TD pass in the second quarter, recovered UCA’s onside kick attempt allowing NSU to run out the clock.
Adkins completed 18 of 26 passes for 226 yards and led the Demons with 16 rushing attempts, a career high, for a net of 48 yards including four sacks. He gained 77 yards rushing but was thrown for 29 negative yards.
UCA led briefly twice, but each time NSU answered on the next series and regained the lead. The Bears moved ahead 17-14 on their opening possession of the third quarter on the second Willie Matthews’ 11-yard TD run of the game, but the Demons took the lead for good less than two minutes later on Adkins’ 38-yard pass to Daniel Taylor, making it 21-17.
UCA was poised to score to close the gap or take the lead when Thomas made his interception on third-and-goal at the 9. He brought the ball back into the field of play, then lateralled to Ryan Sorrell, who dashed 60 yards into UCA territory. The play led to a 41-yard Chris Moore field goal that padded the margin to 24-17.
“That was a huge play by Fred,” said Thomas. “We made big plays near the goalline on both sides of the ball tonight. They were about to score three or seven, and instead we got a field goal out of it. We won by three. A lot of plays made the difference for us but there weren’t any bigger than that one.”
Eddie Camara’s 25-yard field goal trimmed the lead to 24-20 with 12:18 left to play. The Demons’ Purple Swarm defense halted an 87-yard UCA drive at the 8, with tackles Deon Simon and Lesley Deamer making key tackles to stymie the Bears.
Ed Eagan started NSU on the way to the clinching TD with a 43-yard runback of the ensuing kickoff across midfield to the UCA 46. Adkins converted a third-and-3 with a 13-yard pass to De’Mard Llorens to the UCA 26, and senior receiver Louis Hollier took a swing pass and faked out two Bears on an 18-yard gain to the visitors 7. Adkins scored three snaps later.
Adkins staked the Demons to a 14-10 halftime lead with touchdown throws of 25 yards to true freshman Shakeir Ryan and 33 yards to McClain. The second one pushed NSU ahead 14-3 midway through the second quarter, but UCA responded with a 10-play, 86-yard drive capped by Willie Matthews’ 11-yard bolt up the middle.
Until that drive, the Purple Swarm defense had played outstanding, quieting an offense that ran up 66 points and 681 yards a week earlier. Three sacks, two by Simon, had UCA at negative 22 yards rushing before the Bears roared back, blasting away up the middle for 63 yards on the ground in that possession.
UCA finished with 30 first downs and 438 total yards, 297 passing as Howard went 26 of 43 for 276 yards.
Matthews ran for 109 yards on eight carries.
The Demons posted 333 total yards.
Northwestern got a game-high 11 tackles from senior linebacker Pat Black and 10 by redshirt freshman safety Darius Poullard.
Simon had seven tackles, a career high for the junior.
The Demons will play at home again next Saturday in a 3 p.m. contest against Lamar.