A couple of firsts were tangible Saturday night in Tiger Stadium.
In the 12th football meeting between Northwestern State and LSU, the Demons scored their first two touchdowns against the Tigers. The first such score – Quan Shorts’ 17-yard catch from Shelton Eppler – gave Northwestern State its first lead against No. 4 LSU at 7-3.
Shorts’ catch and Eppler’s second touchdown pass – a 26-yarder to wide-open tight end David Fitzwater in the second quarter – came in front of the largest announced crowd (100,334) to see a Northwestern State football game in person.
And they came in an environment many outsiders believed would prove a challenge for the Demons to handle.
“I knew the environment wouldn’t be too big for our players,” second-year head coach Brad Laird said. “I told the players in the team meeting (Sunday), I’m probably more encouraged watching the film than I was after the game, because you’re able to see the one-on-one matchups our guys had success with. The preparation they put in showed. They responded from last Saturday to this Saturday in a positive way in terms of the mental focus and mental makeup that happened Sunday through Friday.”
A week after losing to Midwestern State in its 2019 home opener, the Demons delivered a first-half performance that put Northwestern State just 17 yards away from a one-score game at the half.
Northwestern State’s offense was in gear early, outgaining LSU 114-63 in the first quarter, and compiling two 75-yard touchdown drives in its first four possessions.
For the second time this season, Northwestern State played disciplined football on the road, committing just three penalties. In the season opener at UT Martin, the Demons were flagged nine times but mostly for “effort penalties.”
NSU was hit with one false start despite the decidedly pro-LSU, six-figure crowd.
“There’s a routine you get into on the road,” Laird said. “You’re together with each other. As much as we’re together on the road, you’ve got to look at how our guys and how our coaches prepared. That’s the bottom line. We talked about it, having seven penalties at home a week ago where you think you’d be comfortable to playing in front of 100,000 people and having one mental penalty. It goes back to the mental focus and being locked in and how we can be successful when we do that.”
The Demons got another strong performance from quarterback Shelton Eppler, who tossed his 30th and 31st career touchdown passes, moving into third in school history. The defense also set up a potential score late in the first half as Dylan Wilson collected his first career interception, jumping a Joe Burrow throw deep in the LSU end of the field.
Despite all the positives gained, including scoring NSU’s most points against a Power Five conference team since 2007, Laird said his message to his team remains the same as it was seven days ago.
“It’s about Sunday through Friday,” Laird said. “We’ve said that since Day 1. The only thing that changed today is they saw what we’re capable of when we do that. We didn’t finish, and we weren’t consistent in the second half, but you’ve got to give the No. 4 team in the country credit. We played hard and there are mistakes we have to clean up, but we did it with great excitement, great effort and great mental focus.”