Greetings, Lion fans, in this week’s edition of the Pre Snap Read, we’ll take a closer look at the Demons from Northwestern State, as they attempt to recover from a 35-7 loss at the hands of Southland Conference leader Incarnate Word last Saturday. Despite that final score, there were numerous positive signs to gather from this game.
I’ve spoken in previous columns about certain signposts and indicators about how the 2022 season has progressed, and the direction it appears to be headed. There were more than a few that I saw this past week. First, the attitude and demeanor of D’Ante Smith and Eric Rodriguez in the post-game press conference. This one hurt. It was obvious. There were no blaming others, no pointing of fingers. They both hung in and answered every question without offering any excuse other than they were both incredibly disappointed about not getting the win, and a resolve to go back to work and get prepared for the next week.
Another was an injured Rehoboth Chibesa going back into the game, doing everything he possibly could to try and get the Lion offense moving. After a final turnover sealed the Lions fate, Chibesa had to be helped off the field again by two fellow offensive linemen.
Perhaps the most telling, and the best indicator yet that this team is headed in the right direction was after a failed Lion offensive possession, quarterback Eric Rodriguez came over and sat down on the bench, and then next to him was offensive coordinator Billy Reibock, appearing to console him, as a father would a son after a tough day. That there will be better days ahead.
There most certainly will be. This team stands at 5-3, with one conference loss, and still tied for the Southland Conference lead. Wins against Northwestern and Nicholls State will give them a conference co-championship in their very first season. This team has come farther, faster, than almost anyone thought that they could. They are in the thick of a conference race in a season when most pundits predicted the Lions would win no more than four games. Put on your sunshades, Lion fans. The future is that bright.
With that, let us take a look at our neighbors from Natchitoches, Northwestern State.
Head Coach: Brad Laird, 14-31 (5th Season)
Points: 33.2 ppg
Rush: 149.8 ypg
Pass: 240.2 ypg
Total: 390.0 ypg
Points: 39.0 ppg
Rush: 216.9 ypg
Pass: 246.7 ypg
Total: 463.6 ypg
The Demons began 2022 with a grueling schedule, losing to Grambling, #2 Montana, and Southern Mississippi, as well as Easten Illinois and Southeast Missouri, so the defensive numbers may be skewed a bit, but Northwestern does have some defensive issues, especially against the run. This bodes well for the Lions, as the offensive line had their best game of the year last week and opened several good running lanes that enabled the Lion offense to dominate the time of possession in the first half.
UP FRONT/TALE OF THE TAPE:
Lion Offensive Line: 6’3″ 293 lbs.
Demon Front 6: 6’1″ 251 lbs.
The Demon defense is led by its linebackers, sophomore Jared Pedraza (6’1″ 225 lbs.) , who has 58 tackles (25 solo), and senior Race Moser (6’1″ 225 lbs.), who has 45 tackles (17 solo). They, along with senior Jomaro Valsin, Jr. (6’2″ 245 lbs.), operate behind a defensive line of Isaiah Longino (6’1″ 275 lbs, Sr.), Maurice Campbell (6’2″ 305 lbs., Jr.), and Johnny Mitchell (6’3″ 235 lbs., RS-Fr.). This group, while still working to come together and jell, is big, talented, and can’t be underestimated.
The Lion offensive line continues to be led by senior Rehoboth Chibesa, whos availability for the game is unknown at this time. Sophomore Jadin Jones (6’4″ 278 lbs.), senior Solomon Ndukwe (6’3″ 318 lbs.), are joined by a couple of freshmen, Chandler Donaway (6’1″ 268 lbs.) and McKenzie Agnello (6’5″ 293 lbs.)
MOVERS AND SHAKERS/THE BACK LINE:
Lion Movers and Shakers: 5’11″194 lbs.
Demon Back Line: 6’0″ 196 lbs.
The Demon back line is led by senior defensive back P.J. Herrington (5’10” 190 lbs.), who has 46 tackles on the season (20 solo). Junior Jacob Washington (6’1″ 190 lbs.) has 45 tackles (33 solo). They are joined by senior William Hooper (6’0″ 185 lbs.,), Junior Cedric Anderson (6’4″ 195 lbs.), junior Keenan Leachman (5’11” 215 lbs.), and sophomore Ronnie Caldwell (5’11” 195 lbs.). Again, despite their defensive issues this season, the Demons have a good blend of talent and experience that cannot be overlooked.
The Lions offense continues to be led in both rushing and passing by sophomore quarterback Eric Rodriguez (5’10” 195 lbs.) who has 64 rushing attempts for 297 yards, and a long of 27 yards. Junior Spencer Long (5’11” 196 lbs.) has 212 yards on 49 carries, three touchdowns, and a long of 69 yards.
Sophomore Andrew Armstrong (6’6″ 189 lbs.), continues to be one of the leading receivers in all of FCS despite a subpar game last week. He has 49 catches for 862 yards, 12 touchdowns, and a long of 96 yards. Sophomore Jaden Proctor is developing into a very good complementary receiver, with 29 catches for 297 yards, a pair of touchdowns, and a long of 27 yards. Senior Kenedy Snell is beginning to make his presence felt with 12 catches for 127 yards, a touchdown, and a long of 69 yards.
VERY SPECIAL, INDEED:
Senior P.J. Herrington is the Demon’s punt returner, with a respectable 12.2-yard average on 11 returns, with a long of 31 yards. Junior Zach Harrington (5’11” 180 lbs.) has 12 kickoff returns for a 19.5-yard average, and a long of 41 yards, while sophomore Ke’nard King (5’10” 170 lbs.) has 8 returns for and 16.8-yard average, and a long of 28 yards.
Sophomore Mitchell McGarry just continues to improve, although his numbers may not show it, averaging 35.5 yards on 35 punts, with a long of 63 yards. He has continued to bail the Lion offense out of tight spots at times, and not allow any significant return yardage. Junior Emmanuel Adagbon has been almost perfect this season, 4 of 4 on field goal attempts, with a long of 49 yards, and 32-34 on extra point attempts.
Freshman transfer Aiden Martin just continues his stellar kickoff duties and looks to take his place among the great Lion kicking tradition soon.
THE LIONS WIN THIS MATCHUP IF: They recover after just getting pounded by a better team last week, and just do what they do.. They match up much better with Northwestern State this week and should be able to move the ball and score if Rodriguez can be kept in a clean pocket and have time to locate his receivers. The Demons have had their issues defensively, especially in the secondary. If they are able to protect Rodriguez, he should have his opportunities to make a big play. Bottom line, this is a game the Lions should win.
ON A SIDE NOTE: The crowd turnout, despite the brief rain, was extremely disappointing. This was the biggest game in The Hawk in five seasons. These young men are supremely coached, and they are exempleary representatives of theemselves, their families, and our university. They may have been outmatched last week, but they never gave up, and gave their absolute best effort.
This team is very young, they play hard, and boy, are they fun to watch. They give us, as fans, every effort. They are in the middle of a hunt for at least a conference co-championship when hardly anyone thought they could be. That kind of effort deserves and demands our respect, and our support. We have to do better, Lion fans. Get out to The Hawk this weekend. This is a good team, led by a good coaching staff, and they have gotten to this point faster than anyone thought they could.
See You at The Hawk.