From SFA Athletics
NATCHITOCHES, La. – The largest traveling trophy in all of sports had to go back to Natchitoches, Louisiana, Saturday evening as Northwestern State topped the Stephen F. Austin football team 38-21 inside Turpin Stadium. The host Demons (4-7, 4-5 Southland) racked up 258 yards on the ground and scored 31 first-half points in the 52nd Battle for Chief Caddo to reclaim the Chief Caddo statue from its comforts of Nacogdoches, where it has resided for six of the last nine years.
Northwestern State collected 439 total yards in the win and held the visiting Lumberjacks (4-7, 4-5 Southland) to 324 yards of offense, including just 104 in the second half, in the Southland Conference matchup. Despite outgaining the Demons by 69 yards through the air, SFA was hampered by 137 yards worth of penalties.
After falling into a 21-0 hole in the second quarter, the 'Jacks could not recover from a 31-14 first-half deficit. SFA had a chance to make it a one-possession game in the third quarter at 31-21 but could not convert a fourth-and-two at the Northwestern State three-yard line.
Receiving the opening kickoff, SFA saw only one play on offense before Northwestern State got the ball and began the first scoring drive of the game. The Demons picked off sophomore starting quarterback Jake Blumrick (Pearland, Texas) on a pass that went off the hands of senior tight end Will Taylor (Euless, Texas) and set up shop at the SFA 27. Four plays later, the Demons' Clay Holgorsen found Marquisian Chapman for a 15-yard touchdown, putting Northwestern State up 7-0 after just 1:54 of play.
The 'Jacks went 64 yards in 11 plays on the ensuing drive and got to the Northwestern State five-yard line but after a one-yard loss and a five-yard substitution infraction, SFA was forced into a field goal attempt. Sophomore place-kicker Storm Ruiz (League City, Texas), who entered the game 14-of-16 (.875), missed the chip shot wide right, giving the ball back to the Demons.
SFA's defense came up with back-to-back three-and-out stops but could not get anything going on offense before Northwestern State marched 67 yards down the field in five plays, taking 2:08 before scoring on a Jared West 29-yard run. The touchdown scamper put the Demons ahead 14-0 just 45 seconds into the second quarter. After the Lumberjack offense was held to just two yards in three plays, Northwestern State began its third touchdown drive of the first half. The Demons went 50 yards in nine plays, taking four and a half minutes of clock and scoring on a nine-yard pass from Holgorsen to Jaylen Watson. The score giving Northwestern State a 21-0 lead with 8:46 to go in the second quarter.
On their ensuing drive, the 'Jacks went 74 yards in just five plays and a little over a minute and a half for their first score of the game. Aided greatly by a 61-yard connection from Blumrick to senior wide receiver Trae Hart (Mesquite, Texas), SFA rode senior running back Kijana Amous (Mansfield, Texas) into the end zone. Amous ran the ball for the final 21 yards of the drive and finished it off with a five-yard touchdown rush up the middle, making it a 21-7 game about midway through the second quarter.
The Demons claimed 61 yards on their following drive and took a 24-7 advantage on a 22-yard field goal from Eric Piccione.
SFA put together its longest and most rewarding drive of the contest, a 90-yard, nine-play march in just under three minutes. Blumrick found a wide open Tamrick Pace (Brownsboro, Texas) for a 20-yard touchdown strike with 1:24 remaining in the half, making it 24-14. However, Northwestern State would add one more score before the break after another nine-yard touchdown pass from Holgorsen, this time to Cameron Lazare, to go ahead 31-14 heading into the locker rooms.
The Demons tallied 153 first-half rushing yards and outgained the 'Jacks 276 to 220 in total offensive yards through the first 30 minutes of play.
The second half could not have started much better for SFA, senior defensive end John Franklin (Greenville, Texas) came up with the 'Jacks first takeaway of the game, a sack and forced fumble that was recovered by junior defensive tackle Lamont Alexander (Nolanville, Texas). Setting up shop at the Northwestern State 27, SFA needed just one play to get into the promise land with Blumrick finding Hart for his second touchdown pass of the game and Hart's first end-zone catch of 2017. It made it a 10-point game just two minutes into the third quarter.
On the very next play from scrimmage, the Demons' Chapman fumbled and redshirt freshman defensive tackle Rayshad Nichols (Bridge City, La.) pounced on the loose ball. Starting its drive from the Northwestern State 21, the 'Jacks faced fourth-and-four from the five-yard line. Ruiz went out to attempt a field goal but his attempt became mute after the Demons were called offside. Gaining just two yards on the half-the-distance-to-goal penalty, SFA went for it on fourth-and-two at the three. Redshirt freshman running back Josh McGowen (McAllen, Texas) was tackled for an eight-yard loss after receiving a short pitch from Blumrick as the 'Jacks were unable to convert, leaving SFA empty-handed off of the turnover.
The Demons made the 'Jacks pay on their next drive, taking nearly three and a half minutes off the clock on an eight-play, 89-yard drive that was capped by West's second touchdown rush of the game. The 23-yard run put Northwestern State up 38-21 for good with 7:07 left still to play in the third quarter.
SFA was held to without a first down for the remainder of the quarter as the two teams combined for just 47 yards. In fact, the 'Jacks had negative three yards in the fourth quarter before their final drive of the evening and the Demons had just one drive in the final quarter that resulted in positive yardage.
Much of the final quarter of play was consumed by a 11-play, 43-yard Northwestern State drive that ended in a 52-yard missed field goal and a 17-play, 64-yard SFA drive that ate up five minutes of clock and resulted in a 21-yard field goal that drifted wide left.
Blumrick finished the game 17-of-27 for 170 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while Hart posted a career-high 114 receiving yards on six catches in his final game as a Lumberjack. True freshman quarterback Zach Smith (Pearland, Texas) played nearly the entirety of the fourth quarter and went a season-best 9-for-17 for 80 yards. Amous carried the ball 19 times for 84 yards and a 35-yard run in the opening quarter.
Junior linebacker Ryan Woods (Pearland, Texas) claimed a career-high 13 tackles, including six solo stops and a tackle for loss. True freshman safety Trenton Gordon (Rowlett, Texas) tied his career high with 11 total tackles, while Franklin tallied a career-high nine total tackles and season-best three tackles for loss in his final game in the Purple and White.
Holgorsen went 9-for-14 for 123 yards and three touchdowns for the Demons as Chris Jones collected 158 yards rushing on 25 carries. Jaylen Watson had a team-high 51 yards on three catches and a score. Defensively, Northwestern State's Peyton Guidry had a game-high 18 total tackles, including three tackles for loss for minus 10 yards.
The loss ends the 2017 football season for SFA.
Stay tuned to SFAJacks.com, as well as SFA's social media platforms, for complete coverage of Lumberjack football.
Head coach Clint Conque finishes the 2017 season third on the all-time career Southland coaching victories list. He owns a 50-34 (.595) career record in Southland games, including his time as Central Arkansas' lead man. Coach Conque is just one game away from tying former Sam Houston State coach Ron Randleman (1987-2004, 51-92-2) on the all-time list and four wins shy of former McNeese coach Matt Viator (2006-15, 54-18), who tops the list.
With three tackles for loss, Franklin moved into fifth place in school history in career tackles for loss. He completes his Lumberjack career with 37.5 tackles for loss, while finishing ninth among SFA's all-time career sacks leaders. Franklin's one sack Saturday give him 17.5 total in 41 games played as a Lumberjack.
With his 84 rushing yards and 16 receiving yards, Amous had 100 all-purpose yards Saturday, coming just 10 yards shy of 1,000 for the season. Standout running back Gus Johnson collected 1,848 all-purpose yards in 2014 and was the last SFA player to reach the 1,000-yard mark in a single season. Amous finishes the season with 990 all-purpose yards, including 639 on the ground, 287 receiving and 57 on kickoff returns.
Saturday's contest marked the final game as Lumberjack football players for 10 seniors. After today, SFA bids farewell to running back Kijana Amous, cornerback Aaron Foy (Kilgore, Texas), John Franklin, Trae Hart, offensive lineman Josh Keith (Katy, Texas), cornerback Tarrin Mitchell (Dallas, Texas), cornerback Trent Perriman (Miami, Fla.), offensive lineman Jaxon Salinas (Irving, Texas), Will Taylor and safety Marlon Walls (Pearland, Texas).
Northwestern State head coach Jay Thomas led the Demons for one final time Saturday after it was announced Friday night that his contract would not be renewed. Thomas posted a 21-36 (.368) record in five seasons at Northwestern State. He went 3-2 against SFA as the Demons' head coach.
Head Coach Clint Conque
"I'm disappointed in the outcome. We had opportunities and we didn't take advantage of them. In the first half we struggled with their run game, obviously, they hit a couple of explosive passes on one-on-one coverage. I was disappointed in our inability to score throughout the game in the red zone and the three missed field goals. Like you said, it was a 17-point game, that's only nine points, but those are momentum plays and you know Storm feels terrible. He's been so consistent for us all year. Obviously, he picked a bad night to have a bad day. He'll learn from it and get better."
"I really want to take a moment, our seniors, four of them have been with us for four years and have meant a lot to our program, six others were transfers that came in and they all left an impact. I really feel for those guys tonight. Certainly not the outcome that we wanted. We got pretty beat up tonight; starting center, backup center, corners. We played two true freshmen the majority of the night. As I told the team and we've got kids from everywhere, this game should be motivation enough to go out and compete. But if they didn't understand the sense of the rivalry, maybe the resonated with the underclassmen a little bit tonight."
On whether effort was an issue tonight
"No, I thought we played hard. I don't think we held our composure, there were a lot of personal foul penalties and unsportsmanlike calls on both sides. I can't speak to theirs (Northwestern State) but not holding our composure certainly didn't help our cause either. It was a very emotional game and our young men have to learn from that. Selfish acts will get us in trouble, they will extend drives or change field position."
On if Northwestern State got up a little extra for Jay Thomas' last game as the Demons' coach
"I don't know, maybe. I've know Jay for a long time, we were in college together for a year or two and I have a lot of respect for Jay. His kids were at home playing for their coach and playing for Chief Caddo, we needed to play much better than what we played. We had some chances and we just didn't take advantage of them."
On how much time do you take as a program before putting this season behind you and looking forward to next season