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CSN Down South: Freshmen Rise for Faltering Demons
By Jason Plotkin, CSN Down South Columnist
In the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), there remains just four teams without a victory.
Georgetown, Idaho State, Presbyterian and Northwestern State enter the week seeking a victory and of the four, just the Demons stick out as an oddball.
Picked third by the coaches in the Southland Conference preseason poll, NWST entered the year brewing with confidence. Quarterback Tyler Wolfe was transferring in from Louisville, runningback Quentin Castille was joining the squad from Nebraska and a coach with an electric personality in Bradley Dale Peveto arrived from the state’s flagship institution - LSU.
Now, seven games into the season, the high expectations and confidence have simmered. The two highly touted playmakers that were supposed to change the tide in Natchitoches, La., have failed to develop as many fans thought they would.
Welcome Paul Harris.
One of seven true freshmen to get into games this year, Harris might be a name to remember for SLC fans, as was the case when Texas State’s Bradley George and Stephen F. Austin’s Jeremy Moses first hit the field a few years ago.
While on the wrong side of a 20-17 result against TXST, Harris directed an offensive effort that stole the show. The native of Baton Rouge, La., ran for 118 yards on 22 carries and threw for 117 yards on a 10-of-16 night.
As a whole, the quarterback led an offense to 402 yards, including 289 on the ground. The rushing output alone was 11 yards shy of the team’s average offensive production per game with the 402 yards surpassing by 100 the same mark.
In a season where nothing seems to have gone the way of the Demons, the bright spot remains that several players who could make an impact down the road are hitting their stride as true freshmen.
If the Demons would like to end their losing ways, this weekend might provide the opportunity as NWST makes their way to Huntsville, Texas, to face a Sam Houston State team, which features Peveto’s predecessor - Scott Stoker - as defensive coordinator.
The ball has not moved down the field for the Bearkats with starting quarterback Blake Joseph injured and on the sidelines. For a Demons’ squad that has been outscored by an average of 42-14 this year, a SHSU squad having offensive problems could be just what the doctor ordered. Having a chance to play against a former head coach might just aid that effort.
A LOOK AT THIS PAST WEEK’S HIGHLIGHTS AND STORY LINES
Piney Woods Pile-On. Stephen F. Austin was stalled, held to zero points in the first quarter for the first time this year, but by halftime, it had taken a 21-0 lead on way to a 42-3 victory over SHSU in the annual “Battle of the Piney Woods” game. The Jacks’ 39-point margin of victory was the largest for them in the series with the victory representing just the second in 10 years for SFA against their rival.
Southeastern Stumbles Late in Lake Charles. With a chance to add a banner victory over a Top 25 program, Southeastern Louisiana struggled down the stretch. A potential game-winning field goal by Jeff Turner missed its mark from 38 yards out with 3:18 remaining. The miss allowed McNeese a chance to drive downfield for the victory, which it did with 40 seconds to go when Derrick Fourroux found Richard Conner from five yards out for the go-ahead score. A 36-35 victory for the Pokes.
UCA Claws Colonels. Central Arkansas put its game against Nicholls out of question early. The Bears put up 35 points on the scoreboard in the first half to go along with 405 yards during the first 30 minutes to take a commanding lead. UCA would be able to allow the bench to get some reps in during a 42-13 victory on Homecoming.
Often, offenses in the SLC gain a reputation for being too pass-centric. Even the teams with some of the best passing offenses in the league have typically had a playmaker at runningback. Karrington Bush of TXST comes to mind as a game-changing runningback, as does James Aston at SHSU.
At UCA, where Nathan Brown’s legacy reigns supreme, often Brent Grimes did not get his proper respect from followers of the league. Though against a poor Colonels’ defense, it is hard to ignore what the Baton Rouge, La., native did against Nicholls.
Grimes did not have to play the full 60 minutes, but what he did was more than enough, rushing for 95 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, part of a 164-yard ground effort by the Bears in the opening 30 minutes.
In the second half, Grimes added a 42-yard touchdown to reach 155 yards and three scores. His 155 yards were racked up in just 11 carries for a 14.1 yard per carry average.
THIS WEEK’S SLATE
Besides the SHSU-NWST matchup, this week’s slate is highlighted by a contest between UCA’s visit to SLU.
The Lions have had great crowds at Strawberry Stadium this year and with a SLC title still in play, a crucial victory against the Bears from Arkansas will need to be secured. The road to the conference championship still includes a game against SFA for SLU, as does the annual rivalry game against Nicholls.
TXST will look to find the same success at Bobcat Stadium that it has found away from those friendly confines when it hosts SFA. In the final game of the slate, McNeese travels to Thibodaux, La., to face the Colonels.
* * *
LAGNIAPPE – A BIT EXTRA TO WRITE HOME ABOUT
* McNeese sports information director Louis Bonnette attended his 500th consecutive football game last weekend for the Pokes. Bonnette has not missed a beat, having attended every game since a 1966 contest at Texas A&I (now known as Texas A&M-Kingsville).
* To date, no further information has been made available as it relates to the Lamar-Georgia State scheduling dilemma. A recent e-mail inquiry to the media relations office at GSU indicated that the athletic director is out of town. It has now been 10 weeks since Lamar has announced a schedule, and the game still does not appear on the Panthers’ slate. Further updates as they become available.
* Speaking of upstart FCS programs in the SLC, UTSA hired Shane Elder as Director of Football Operations. Elder served seven years at Texas A&M in a similar capacity as an administrative assistant.
* SHSU is seeking firms interested in conducting a Division I feasibility study. While the program will look at the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS), ultimately this also will provide a better insight into how the university can have increased success as an FCS institution. To review the request for proposal, visithttp://www.shsu.edu/~pur_www/wca/procurement/documents/Notice-ConsultingAthleticFeasibilityStudy.doc
SLC IN THE GPI
6. Southland Conference (40.69)
11. SF Austin (11.88)
21. McNeese St (21.75)
22T. Cent Arkansas (22.00)
42. SE Louisiana (37.25)
50T. Texas St (39.63)
69. Sam Houston St (52.88)
95. Northwestern St (68.75)
98T. Nicholls St (71.38)