NATCHITOCHES, La. — Junior college transfer quarterback Brad Henderson caught fire, completing a school-record 13 consecutive passes to spark a second-half rally as Northwestern State was able to overcome a 17-point deficit to beat Division II power Delta State 24-23 on Thursday night at Turpin Stadium.
Henderson replaced starter Paul Harris and guided the Demons (1-0) back from a 17-0 halftime deficit with 24 unanswered points, scoring on four of their first five possessions of the second half. No. 2 Delta State (1-1), last year’s Division II runner-up, missed a chance to win the game with 10 seconds left on a failed two-point conversion pass.
Northwestern State won its 499th all-time game with its second-biggest rally since moving into Division II in 1977.
“We showed a lot of heart, a lot of character to stay together. We’ve got some strong roots,” head coach Bradley Dale Peveto said. “This didn’t start in fall camp. This has been a process since 2009 and our strength as a unit held us together [Thursday night] against a heck of a Division II team.”
Henderson completed his first 13 passes, including a 32-yard touchdown to senior tight end Justin Aldredge less than two minutes into the second half to get NSU on the board. The Demons drew within 17-14 on a 10-play, 61-yard drive capped by a 2-yard Sterling Endsley run, and took the lead on a 3-yard Endsley run set up by a Cashas Pollard interception at the Statesmen’s 41-yard line.
After going up 21-17 with 13:49 to go, NSU’s kickoff was not fielded by Delta State and the Demons’ Justin Evans snagged it at the 27. That led to a 27-yard John Shaughnessy field goal for a 24-17 advantage with 10:29 remaining.
The Demons seemed to have it wrapped up when a pass fell incomplete back at the Delta State 14 on 3rd and 25. But a late hit on quarterback Micah Davis gave the Statesmen new life, and they moved 71 yards on 11 plays and scored a touchdown with 10 seconds left on a 13-yard pass from Davis to Tim Smith.
After a timeout, Delta State pulled the kicking team off the field and went for the game-winning two-point conversion. A pass over the middle sailed past the intended receiver, preserving Northwestern State’s lead.
“We made just enough plays to win,” Peveto said. “We made a ton of mistakes that could have cost us. But we kept fighting, we stayed together, we didn’t stop believing, and we won the football game. We’ll enjoy it and turn the page to LSU [next week’s opponent] starting [Friday].”
Davis sneaked in from the 1 to open the scoring and polish up a 98-yard drive late in the first quarter. He hit Lavon Downs with an 8-yard scoring toss 10:05 before halftime, and led a 90-yard, 10-play drive to finish the first half with a 25-yard Matt Dean field goal at the 0:25 mark to move the Statesmen up 17-0 at the half.
The Statesmen put together 421 yards of offense. Davis was 19-of-42 for 290 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Sophomore running back Richard Freelon led the team in rushing, gaining 48 yards on 10 carries. The Statesmen defense recorded three sacks, two from senior linebacker Robert Hogan. Delta State also forced and recovered two fumbles.
The Demons gained 355 yards of total offense. Endsley carried the team on the ground with 21 yards and two touchdowns.
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