When he looked up at the scoreboard Thursday night entering halftime, Northwestern State coach Bradley Dale Peveto had every reason to be concerned. When he looked at his players in the locker room, Peveto said he had every reason to be optimistic.
“I was real proud of our football team because when you look them in the eye, you can kind of get a feel for how they feel,” he said.
The Demons clearly felt like staring down Division II power Delta State’s early 17-0 lead and rallying for victory before a home crowd of 7,531 on opening night.
Behind substitute quarterback Brad Henderson, Northwestern reeled off 24 straight points, then held on for a 24-23 victory after Delta State failed on a two-point try with 10 seconds remaining.
Northwestern now sets its sights on Saturday’s game at LSU - the FCS school’s first shot at the Tigers in 59 years.
Peveto, an assistant at LSU the first four seasons of the Les Miles era, is dressing all 115 players for the 7 p.m. kickoff. The Demons will leave Natchitoches in three buses Saturday morning.
“LSU’s a special place,” Peveto said. “I’m looking forward to our football team getting to experience Tiger Stadium on a Saturday night. Any football player in the country deserves that opportunity.”
LSU has won 10 previous meetings with Northwestern by a 417-0 count. The Tigers took a 40-0 win on Sept. 19, 1942, in the last meeting of the schools.
In his seven seasons as LSU’s coach, Miles has never lost to a nonconference opponent in the regular season.
The Tigers improved to 24-0 in such games with Saturday’s 40-27 smacking of Oregon at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, a performance that bumped LSU up two spots to No. 2 in the AP poll.
But when McNeese State played at LSU last season, the Cowboys trailed by only 12 points in the fourth quarter of a 32-10 loss.
“I thought they played LSU extremely well last year,” Peveto said of his Southland Conference rivals. “They went in there and started fast, and good things happened to them, and they were in the game the whole night.”
In order to match that effort, the Demons will likely need Henderson to keep hot in his first career start.
As part of a plan to work in the East Mississippi Community College transfer, Peveto substituted Henderson for Tara High grad Paul Harris after the Demons netted 17 yards in their first two possessions.
Harris, a preseason All-Southland Conference selection who has started for Northwestern since late in his freshman year, did not return.
Peveto benched the junior for sideline conduct “detrimental to the team,” according to a Northwestern news release. After further issues at halftime, Peveto directed Harris to leave the locker room and stay off the sideline the remainder of the game, according to the release.
On Friday, Peveto announced that Harris had been suspended from the team indefinitely.
Peveto would not elaborate Tuesday on the extent of the suspension or what kind of criteria Harris must meet to get back in good graces.
“Right now, he’s suspended indefinitely, and that will be determined later,” Peveto said. “It’s basically a family matter, and that’s kind of how I’m handling it.”
Henderson took advantage of his expanded role in Thursday’s win, leading Northwestern to scores on four of its first five second-half possessions. He finished 13-of-14 for 210 yards while completing a school-record 13 straight passes.
Northwestern authored the second-largest rally in the school’s Division I history, going up for good with 13:49 to play and holding on when Delta State’s two-point pass at the end fell incomplete.
“I was proud to see our team come back and show a lot of class, character and poise,” Peveto said.