THIBODAUX — The 500th victory in Northwestern State football history had little mystery Saturday afternoon as the visiting Demons dashed to a three-touchdown first-quarter lead behind quarterback Brad Henderson en route to their first shutout win in 53 games, 34-0 over Nicholls State.
It was a regionally televised Southland Conference opener for both teams. Northwestern (2-2 overall) followed losses at LSU and SMU with a dominating performance, outgaining Nicholls (1-3) by 396-212.
Henderson had TD throws of 9, 2 and 48 yards in the opening period while finishing 13 of 19 for 187 yards, and adding 44 yards rushing. The triumph moved the Demons to 500-418-22 in 102 seasons since their first intercollegiate game in 1907.
A goal-line stand late in the first half, with the Demons stopping the Colonels at the 3, preserved the first shutout for Northwestern since a 9-0 victory at Nicholls in 2006.
“That was a big statement, to hold them out then,” said third-year Demons coach Bradley Dale Peveto. “If they get in there, they’re back in it, 21-7. Our offense then did a great job of digging out and turning around the field so no damage was done.”
Northwestern converted short fields for scoring drives of 48, 44 and 41 yards, blending an explosive running game with effective passing, keeping the Colonels on their heels with play-action passes. The balance was reflected in 114 rushing yards and 116 in the air at halftime.
“There are two things I tell our guys that they need to have when they come out and play. You got to have a great mindset and attitude, and you have to play with tremendous enthusiasm and effort, and we didn’t have either one of them coming out of the gate anywhere,” Nicholls State coach Charlie Stubbs said.
Nicholls had only 104 total yards, most of that on a 69-yard drive behind backup quarterback Beaux Hebert, who entered the contest for an ineffective LaQuintin Caston. Hebert guided the Colonels down to the 3 where a fourth-and-1 was slammed shut on a tackle for no gain by the Demons’ defensive interior, with the stop credited to All-American linebacker Derek Rose.
Rose, back off a hamstring injury that kept him on the sideline for all but four plays a week ago, provided the initial spark for the Demons by intercepting a pass deflected at the line and returning it to the Colonels’ 44. Six plays later, Henderson looped a 9-yard touchdown to true freshman JaMarcus Williams five minutes into the game.
A nifty 23-yard punt return by Kevin Shief set up Northwestern at the Colonels 41 got the visitors started late in the quarter. A play-action toss from Henderson to tight end Tucker Nims from the 2 doubled the lead with 2:52 left in the period.
Nicholls took the kickoff and advanced to a second-and-3 near midfield, but the Demons stuffed a fourth-and-less than a yard gamble at the Colonels’ 48. Henderson took the next snap and T.C. Henry snagged a perfectly thrown bomb inside the 5, sprinting in for a 21-0 lead with 46 seconds left in the opening quarter.
Rose recovered a fumble on Nicholls’ first play after halftime, setting up a 21-yard John Shaughnessy field goal.
Northwestern’s top rusher, sophomore tailback D.J. Palmer (12 carries, 78 yards), tallied over the right side from 1 yard out eight snaps after a 25-yard Shief punt return set up the Demons at the Nicholls 29.
Shaughnessy added a 35-yard field goal midway through the fourth period.
“We had a great plan designed by (offensive coordinator) coach (Todd) Cooley, and it had a lot of play action,” Henderson said. “It opened up just like we thought. Give credit to the offensive line, they created some big creases and the backs ran very hard.”
Henderson said the Demons offense remained confident despite gaining only 226 total yards in the previous two games.
“That’s a confidence-booster, when you come out and put up points against a very good Nicholls defense after struggling the last two weeks against two great defenses. We had a great plan, we believed in each other, and we executed pretty well,” Henderson said.
“We played a great schedule that prepared us for conference play, no doubt,” Peveto said. “Our strength of schedule showed up today.”