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Mistakes plague Demons - KTBS.com - Shreveport, LA News, Weather and Sports

Mistakes plague Demons

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Courtesy: NSU Athletics

Northwestern State football coach Jay Thomas knows his Demons are on the right track to developing into the team he wants, and it's easy and extremely frustrating to pinpoint what's holding them back.

 

The Demons (3-4 overall, 0-2 in the Southland Conference) had the upper hand for much of Saturday night against a rising Southeastern Louisiana (5-2, 2-0) team, but a pivotal series of mistakes in just over three minutes midway through the third quarter opened the door for the Lions to rally with a 16-point outburst that was the turning point in their 37-22 road win.

 

Northwestern rolled up 490 offensive yards, and held SLU's explosive attack to 387 yards, nearly 100 below average. The Demons didn't come close to converting yardage into enough points, hampered by costly penalties and special teams mistakes.

 

Yet, progress after a league-opening loss at Nicholls was obvious and encouraging, said Thomas. 

 

"Our guys played their tails off, and that's what we are trying to get accomplished. We want to bring back the old style of Demon football, and play aggressively. I was really pleased with the way our offense and our defense performed.

 

"Missed opportunities were costly. We left a lot of points out there, and that made the difference. Missing the field goals (45, 44 yards) in the first half, getting a penalty when we're inches from the goalline right before halftime that made us settle for a field goal - that's 10 points through our hands right there. We were up 13-7, should have been 20-7," he said.

 

When a Demon flinched before the snap on third-and-goal inside the 1 in the final 15 seconds of the half, it was the most costly of 12 flags on NSU for 68 yards. It's the fourth time this season the Demons have drawn double-digits in penalties, which galls Thomas.

 

"Penalties, that's mental, that's a lack of discipline. We've been addressing that and evidently not well enough. This is what holds us back. We can play a lights-out great game, and I've had this conversation with our team multiple times, if we get penalties at the wrong time, it comes back to bite us.

 

"It happened last night. We had a good team on the ropes. We had a great game plan, one that was well executed. We had mistakes, but not as many as a week earlier. We are on the right path, but we have clean up the penalties. We are losing points that way and we cannot afford it," he said.

 

Special teams miscues continued to haunt Northwestern. Along with the missed placement kicks, a misdirected kickoff triggered the game-changing 92-yard kickoff return touchdown with 8:32 to go in the third quarter by SLU's Xavier Roberson, who had been held in check on his three previous chances.

 

"We have to get the ball between the posts. We missed seven kicking points last night. It's accuracy, and that was a big factor on the kickoff return also. We wanted the ball deep left, got it short and in the middle of the field," said Thomas. "That condensed our coverage, and put us at a disadvantage. Then we missed four tackles, on a great returner who was leading the nation coming in, but until that kick we had done a great job defending him.

 

"It's very little things, a fine line between success and failure, and when you're playing a good quality team, they have to be executed to a T. We will demand these things get done, or we will get somebody else in to do it," he said.

 

Sophomore Ed Eagan had the biggest game by a Demon receiver in five seasons, with 145 yards on seven catches, including the game's first score, a leaping 32-yard grab. But he couldn't catch the kickoff following Roberson's runback, with a knuckleballing bouncer skipping through his hands and off his leg out of bounds at the NSU 1. One play later, SLU tied the game at 16 on a safety.

 

"Ed had a phenomenal night making plays otherwise," said Thomas. "It was one of those balls that came off the bat kinda squirrelly, spinning the opposite way, and I really think he looked to see where the coverage was because the ball was getting to him slowly. Major league shortstops miss ground balls at times, and this happened to be a really bad time and place for us."

 

With the Demons chipping the ensuing free kick short to avoid Roberson, SLU got the ball just shy of midfield and used two pass completions for 30 yards in a drive that put the Lions on top to stay, 23-16, with 5:33 left in the third quarter.

 

"In just over three minutes, we lost everything we had built to that point. We played a tremendous first half holding Southeastern, who was averaging 36 points a game, to seven. Even after that mess in the third quarter we still had our opportunities, but just didn't get the job done down the stretch," said Thomas. "We should have had some cushion, but our mistakes and missed opportunities wiped it out."

 

Buoyed by the team's overall improvement and resiliency in the wake of a bitterly disappointing defeat a week earlier, Thomas is determined and upbeat heading into next Saturday's visit to two-time defending Southland champion and FCS runner-up Sam Houston State - upset at McNeese State on Saturday night.

 

"We've got five games to go, and we'll take them one at a time. We've got a good football team. Let's clean up the mistakes, go over to Sam Houston, and win the game. It can be done," said Thomas. "Anything can happen. We can still go 8-4 and get in the playoff hunt. I do believe we're on the right path." 

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