Southern struggles at Northwestern State

NATCHITOCHES — The class of opponent in Southern’s second game of the season was different. The result was not.

More than a week after Houston ran wild on the Jaguars in the opener, Northwestern State had similar success in a 55-14 victory before a crowd of 14,873 at Turpin Stadium that included many Southern fans who made the trek north.

A game Southern trailed 10-0 after the first quarter was essentially out of reach by the time Northwestern took a 31-0 edge midway through the second.

“We got exposed in all areas,” Southern coach Dawson Odums said. “We’re not a very good football team right now. We can’t tackle. We can’t get first downs. You can’t win like that.”

Though reminiscent of the opener, Houston’s 62-13 rout of Southern was much easier to digest. The Jaguars were playing up against a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent that wrote Southern a $350,000 check for making the trip. Their lack of resistance against Houston was somewhat expected.

In the first Southern-Northwestern matchup since 2002, the Jaguars renewed a series in which the first 10 meetings were split.

Northwestern (2-0) was picked near the bottom of the Southland Conference in the preseason, while Southern was expected to challenge in the Southwestern Athletic Conference for the first time since Pete Richardson’s heyday.

“We’ve just got to get back to the fundamentals and work harder at practice so we can come out here and execute,” said Southern linebacker Daniel Brown, who had a game-high 14 tackles, including nine solo stops and one sack. “It’s very disappointing. You play the game to win.”

The good news for the Jaguars is they have yet to lose a step in the SWAC race. Southern begins conference play next week when Prairie View travels to Baton Rouge for the home opener.

“I think we can get some things accomplished before next Saturday,” Odums said. “It’s our conference opener, and our season is on our shoulders. If we want to be good, we have to start playing better.”

Reason for concern was left all over Northwestern’s new synthetic turf.

Zach Adkins lit up Southern’s veteran secondary, completing 22 of 34 passes for 331 yards and three touchdowns. Bryant Mitchell (six catches for 99 yards) and Ed Eagan (six for 98) combined for 197 yards on 12 catches. Four backs led a Northwestern rushing attack that finished with 192 yards on 40 carries, helping the Demons to 554 yards of offense.

Meanwhile, Southern’s ground game was stonewalled for the second straight week, managing just 61 yards on 35 carries.

There were other issues.

Punter Paul Randle Soden averaged 27.7 yards on nine punts, including two 24-yarders that each led to two-play TD drives for Northwestern.

Even standout quarterback Dray Joseph had a rough night, going 19-of-28 for 187 yards while being sacked five times.

The bright spot for Southern was diminutive dynamo Willie Quinn, who scored both touchdowns. He caught a short pass from Joseph late in the first half and sniffed out the end zone for a 10-yard score. Early in the second half, he received a Northwestern kick and weaved his way 98 yards for a touchdown — the longest kickoff return in Turpin history.

But even when things went well for Southern, they quickly turned sour.

Eagan answered the Quinn return with a 61-yard spurt on the ensuing kickoff. A penalty against Southern marched off 15 more yards, setting the Demons up at the SU 24 and leading to another short touchdown drive.

By the end of Northwestern’s sixth victory over Southern in 11 tries, the Demons had scored their most points against a Division I opponent since 2003, when NSU whipped Southeastern Louisiana 87-27 in the Lions’ first season returning to football.

“I’m really proud of our guys and the way they handled the week,” first-year Northwestern coach Jay Thomas said. “Our guys came out on fire and played really good in all phases, expect for the one kickoff return.”