Courtesy: NSU Athletics
Nothing special Saturday would have been just fine with Northwestern State football coach Jay Thomas, who watched two early breakdowns in the kicking game put the Demons in a two-touchdown hole that defined a 52-28 loss at UAB.
A rain-slicked football sailed past leaping NSU punter Chase Tassin and squirted back to the 8 on the game's seventh play, and the Blazers converted a fourth-and-goal 1-yard TD pass. After an ensuing Demons' 3-and-out, UAB's dynamic returner Jemarcus Russell, third nationally in all-purpose yards, twisted and darted through a pack of defenders then outraced the rest down the Northwestern sideline on a 63-yard punt runback for a 14-0 advantage 4:52 into the game.
"We gave up a punt return and made a bad snap that put us down 14 points right away and if we had not, it probably would have been a three-point game at halftime and we're leading in the third quarter. But every play counts and they made more than we did," said Thomas.
But the Demons (2-2) were much better than last week's 66-9 victims to powerful Cincinnati. They twice pushed back within 10 points, the last time at 31-21 just 68 seconds into the third quarter, and gained a respectable 344 yards, including 100 on 15 carries, with touchdowns of 1 and 3 yards, from Garrett Atzenweiler.
UAB was able to maintain the upper hand thanks to an explosive day from first-team All-Conference USA running back Darrin Reaves, whose power, speed and agility produced 178 yards on 17 runs, including scores of 8 and 50 yards. The Blazers posted 242 rushing yards and threw for 212 more and three scores.
"We didn't tackle well today, in both phases – special teams and defense. You have to give UAB a lot of credit. Their running back was big and physical and their tight ends were big," said Thomas. "We knew that coming into the game, that we were going to have to get them on the ground and we didn't do that enough."
Northwestern got its first break when Fred Thomas made a diving interception at UAB's 36 midway through the opening quarter. The Demons used seven snaps to get on the board when Atzenweiler took a direct snap from the wildcat formation and powered across from the 1.
The Blazers posted the next 10 points to build a 24-7 lead, but a 30-yard Daniel Taylor run set up Atzenweiler's 3-yard TD, and NSU forced a quick 3-and-out late in the first half down 24-14. But the visitors couldn't duplicate their 4-play, 50-yard drive a series earlier, and UAB did, rolling 69 yards on four snaps, the last 8 on Reaves' first score for a 31-14 halftime advantage.
Louis Hollier snagged two Zach Adkins passes on the first four plays of the third period, taking the second 34 yards for a touchdown to draw the Demons within 10. But UAB took command with two long scores, a 41-yard Nelson catch and Reaves' 50-yard run, within 66 seconds sandwiched around a 3-and-out and a shanked punt by Northwestern.
Atzenweiler ripped off a 40-yard scamper on the next series, a 75-yard, six-snap possession capped by a Taylor 6-yard score to blunt a blowout and draw NSU within 45-28 with 5:33 left in the third quarter. But after that torrent of four TDs in 10 minutes, it was another 15 before the Blazers put it away with their final score.
Atzenweiler's outing gave NSU its first 100-yard rusher in eight games and a bright spot for the seven-hour ride home for next Saturday's final non-conference outing, against Langston.
"We love seeing that guy run. It was a good breakout show for him. He ran the ball really physical. I felt like our offense really moved the ball well today and kept us in the game to give us an opportunity," said Thomas.
The contest marked the first time since 1991 the Demons had played their first four games in four different states. They won't leave Louisiana again until an Oct. 26 Southland Conference visit to Sam Houston State.
|AUG 29||6:00pm CDT||at Missouri State|
|SEP 7||6:00pm CDT||Southern|
|SEP 14||6:00pm CDT||at Cincinnati|
|SEP 21||2:00pm CDT||at Alabama Birmingham|
|SEP 28||6:00pm CDT||Langston|
|OCT 12||3:00pm CDT||at Nicholls|
|OCT 19||6:00pm CDT||Southeastern Louisiana|
|OCT 26||2:00pm CDT||at Sam Houston State|
|NOV 2||7:00pm CDT||Central Arkansas|
|NOV 9||3:00pm CDT||Lamar|
|NOV 16||7:00pm CDT||at McNeese State|
|NOV 23||3:00pm CDT||Stephen F. Austin|