HAMMOND — Southeastern Louisiana and Northwestern State renew their rivalry for the 59th time with each team having won 29 games.
Never, though, have the two Southland Conference rivals run into each other so early in the season as they will when the No. 19 Lions visit the Demons at 6 p.m. Thursday.
Not only are Southeastern and Northwestern State opening the season and SLC schedule against each other, they’ll do so on the American Sports Network.
“Anytime we can get the extra exposure, get on TV, I’m all for it,” SLU coach Ron Roberts said Tuesday during his weekly luncheon. “It just helps our program. It will help us in recruiting. Right now there’s a bunch of seniors out there trying to figure where want to play football next year.”
The early nature of this year’s game is quite a contrast for a series that typically involves late-season clashes, as late as the ninth week of the season.
Southeastern extended its three-game win streak over the Demons in a Week 6 showdown last year, holding off a valiant fourth-quarter effort for a 30-22 victory.
“I fully expect it to be a knock-down-drag-out game until the bitter end,” Roberts said. “The last couple of years it’s been down to the wire and it’s been a very physical football game. We have a great deal of respect for their program, and (coach) Jay Thomas has done a great job.”
Roberts said he and his staff, which includes five new coaches, began preparing for Northwestern State last week but admits to being somewhat in the dark about the Demons without benefit of current game film.
“Obviously they’re going to do some things we haven’t seen and we’re going to do some things they haven’t seen,” Roberts said. “Early on in this game, it’s going to be athlete-for-athlete, and we’ll see what we’ve got and have to make our adjustments as a coaching staff.”
All-Southland cornerback Harlan Miller said the Lions’ preparation hasn’t been thrown out of sorts with the earlier-than-usual kickoff. The Lions have traditionally played Nicholls State in the River Bell Classic on Thursday and know the routine.
“I think we’ve handled pretty well to this point,” he said. “Practice has gone well and so have the meetings. Everything’s going to be good.”
The two most noticeable differences in the two teams will be at quarterback, where both will have new starters replacing their record-setting predessors.
Junior Da’Shaie Landor, a UL-Lafayette transfer, saw action in seven games last season behind starter Bryan Bennett. A former Class 4A offensive MVP at Teurlings Catholic, he completed 5 of 8 passes for 151 yards and rushed for 141 yards and 3 TDs last season.
Roberts said he expects Utah transfer Donovan Isom of Destrehan to play as well.
Northwestern State, looking for a replacement for Zach Adkins, will choos from among a quartet ranging from LSU and Vanderbilt transfer Stephen Rivers to junior Daniel Hazelwood, sophomore D.J. Almond and Butler (Kan.) Community College transfer Joel Blumenthal.
“My guess is we’ll see both,” Roberts said, referring to Rivers and Blumenthal. “If Rivers is in, they’ll throw it and they have a great receiving corps. We recruited Blumenthal. He can run and they’ll run option with him.”
SLU opens the season with a redshirt freshman place-kicker in Jonathan Tatum and true freshman punter/kickoff specialist in Harrison Heim. ... Former Denham Springs running back Kaleb Blanchard, the school’s second-leading rusher, has transferred to SLU from South Alabama and will be a sophomore this season.