“We may have overlooked them a little bit, but college football today has turned into anyone can beat anyone,” Nevada quarterback Cody Fajardo said. “The fact that we overlooked them and probably didn’t play as hard as we should’ve, that hurt us. They’re a good team. I’m not taking anything away from them. They put up points and their defense held us. It was just a good, tough battle for us.”
Holding a slim 17-13 margin over its FCS opponent from Natchitoches, La., after two quarters of play, the Wolf Pack came away with a steal that proved to be the turning point of the game.
To start the second half, the Demons looked poised to take the lead back as well as the momentum as they drove the length of the field with the aid of a number of Nevada penalties. Standing on the 1-yard line on second-and-goal, Northwestern State’s Brad Henderson dove over the pile in an attempt to clear the goal line but Nevada defensive back Duke Williams snatched the ball out of Henderson’s hands and returned it 51 yards to midfield.
“They ran a quarterback draw and the quarterback was in the pile looking for a hole. He tried to stretch his hand out with the ball and I just ripped the ball away from him,” Williams said. “It was a big momentum swing. They were on a drive and the momentum was swinging their way. It was great play and set the offense up.”
The goal line stand resulted in a 14-point swing as Wolf Pack running back Stefphon Jefferson took the very next snap 48 yards for a touchdown and 24-13 Nevada advantage at the 10:42 mark of the third quarter.
Nevada’s 11-point lead would remain through a trading of six touchdowns as neither defense proved capable of stopping the opposing offensive attack. The two sides swapped a barrage of half a dozen touchdowns through the remainder of the game, leaving the scoreboard reading the final score of 45-34. NSU attempted to put together one last=ditch effort at a comeback, but fell short as time expired.
To open the game, the Demons took a 3-0 lead on a 22-yard Jo Shaughnessy field goal. Nevada countered with a 2-yard quarterback draw from Fajardo to bring the score to 7-3 with 4:44 left in the first quarter.
In the second quarter, the Wolf Pack tacked on a 29-yard field goal from Allen Hardison to push its lead to 10-3. That small edge was short lived as the Demons marched down the field en route to a 2-yard touchdown pass-and-catch, Henderson to Corey Simmons, followed by a 34-yard field goal by Shaughnessy on its next possession to take a 13-10 lead with 0:49 left in the half. That proved to be enough time for the Wolf Pack though as Fajardo capped off an 80-yard drive with a 25-yard touchdown pass to tight end Zach Sudfeld with 0:04 on the game clock to take a 17-13 advantage into the intermission.
Fajardo finished with 237 yards passing, going 21-for-33 through the air and a TD. On the ground Fajardo ran for 124 yards and three touchdowns on 16 carries, outdone only by Jefferson, who racked up 247 yards and a pair of scores on 27 rushes.
Despite coming away with the victory, Ault was not pleased with the performance he saw from his defense as Northwestern State (1-2) topped 357 yards passing and 228 rushing for its best total offensive output since a 2002 win over Elon University.
“Defensively, there was just no excuse for what we saw out there. It’s disappointing,” Ault said. “To come out and play like that, on their heels, playing not to lose. You cannot play football like that and that’s the way our defense played. That’s coaching. That starts right here with me and works right on down to the coaches. That has to cease. It’s got to stop. We have no excuse for the way we played tonight. We’ve got our work cut out for us.”
Williams, the leader of the defense, agreed with his coach and said there is a lot to fix as Nevada (2-1) prepares to travel to Hawaii on Saturday to open Mountain West play.
“It was a very bittersweet win. We need to tighten up toward the end of the game. We’re allowing teams to throw deep balls on us. We need to just step it up in the secondary,” Williams said. “We have a lot of issues that need to get fixed and come Monday, it will get fixed, I will make sure of that… I don’t know who we are to take a team lightly because we haven’t done anything yet. We’re no one to take a team lightly. We haven’t done anything yet. We’re still a team that needs to fight four quarters and scrap for a win.
“Right now if Hawaii were to put on the tape, they would be licking their chops and I wouldn’t blame them. We have three days of practice and we’re leaving on Thursday to the islands so we really have some work to do and we need to work fast.”