NATCHITOCHES — McNeese State linebacker Joe Narcisse’s 18-yard interception return touchdown with 14 minutes remaining Saturday night, and a pair of failed two-point conversion tries by Northwestern State, made the difference in the visiting Cowboys’ 20-18 Southland Conference football victory over the Demons.

Narcisse batted the ball into the air just past the line of scrimmage, caught it and dashed down the left side to score with 14:07 left, moving McNeese ahead 20-12 after former Denham Springs standoutt Josh Lewis’ conversion kick.

The Demons responded with a 5-yard TD run by Sidney Riley with 11:42 remaining, but their second two-point attempt of the game failed.

The game ended with the Demons unable to complete a 47-yard Hail Mary pass on the final play, with the ball bounding upward in the end zone amid McNeese defenders and two Demon receivers, but falling to the turf.

McNeese (3-1 overall, 2-0 in the Southland Conference, ranked No. 15 in the FCS Coaches’ Top 25 and 18th in the Sports Network FCS Top 25) beat Northwestern (2-3, 1-1) for the seventh straight year.

The outcome left the Cowboys alone atop the early league standings.

The Demons missed a first-half two-point try on a pass by kicker John Shaughnessy that was tipped away by a diving McNeese safety Malcom Bronson.

Northwestern led 9-6 at that point 9:03 before halftime, and added a 22-yard Shaughnessy field goal to go ahead 12-6 with 6:52 left after an interception by defensive tackle Anthony Gilbert at the Cowboy 9.

McNeese went on top to stay, 13-12, with 16 seconds to go in the half when Cody Stroud found Darius Carey on an 8-yard touchdown pass after an 8-play, 55-yard drive.

Northwestern State went up 3-0 on a 26-yard Shaughnessy field goal at the end of an 11-play, 68-yard drive on the Demons’ first series of the game.

McNeese responded with two short Lewis field goals, 20 and 22 yards, the second set up by Janzen Jackson’s interception and 12-yard runback to the Demons’ 22.

That 6-3 edge 14:09 before halftime evaporated when the Demons drove 82 yards in 11 plays after the kickoff, capped by a perfectly thrown and nicely caught 4-yard fade route from on third down from Henderson to Louis Hollier.

Up 9-6 with 9:03 showing, Northwestern State set up in its standard swinging gate formation for the apparent extra point kick, the Demons never shifted into a conventional kicking formation.

Shaughnessy took a lateral from holder Phil LeBlanc, rolled left and looped a pass toward tight end Tucker Nims, open running the same direction in the end zone. But McNeese’s Bronson raced across and dove to deflect the pass away.

The second missed two-pointer came with Bronson again defending the receiver, this time Northwestern State tight end Justin Aldredge. Henderson’s pass sailed high and was knocked away by Bronson.

Stroud hit on 19-of-32 passes for 217 yards, and Andre Anderson led the Cowboys in rushing with 37 yards on 13 carries.

Carey was McNeese’s leading receiver with five catches for 52 yards, while former Central standout Wes Briscoe had two receptions for 72 yards.