Senior Jarred Craft scored three touchdowns, including a pair of fourth quarter scores, to lead Louisiana Tech to a 52-24 victory over Northwestern State Saturday night before 24,002 fans at Joe Aillet Stadium.
After Northwestern State (0-1) scored a pair of touchdowns following LA Tech (1-0) turnovers early in the third quarter to tie the game at 24-24, the Bulldogs answered with 28 unanswered points, including 21 in the final stanza to dodge the upset bug in the opener for both teams.
“I’m trying to think of something good to say,” said LA Tech head coach Skip Holtz. “I thought our offensive line was average tonight. I thought J’Mar Smith had some good deep throws early in the game. I told the team before the game that this was going to be about special teams and turnovers. I didn’t know how right I was going to be about that but I was. Hats off to Northwestern State. They played a great game.”
Craft, the senior running back from Haughton, led a potent Bulldog rushing attack with 86 yards and two touchdowns (2, 2) while adding a 17-yard scoring reception to his resume. As a team, Tech rushed for 221 yards as quarterback J’Mar Smith added 72 yards and Boston Scott tallied 55 yards. Scott also led Tech with 55 yards receiving.
“It was good,” said Craft. “It was a team win. Obviously the first game, we kind of made some mistakes. Felt like we kind of started off a little bit slow but the second half we started to pick everything up and started to execute.”
Northwestern State began the game with a bit of flare with a double-reverse on an 18-yard pass from Bobby Chan-Chan to quarterback J.D. Almond. Following that, the Demons quickly made a statement with a 52-yard touchdown pass from Almond to Jaylen Watson to put the visitors on the board first.
After a couple of stalled drives by both teams in the first quarter, LA Tech’s offense started clicking enough to drive down the field and set up a 31-yard field goal by Jonathan Barnes, which cut Northwestern State’s lead to 7-3.
From there, the fun really began for the Bulldogs, as DeJuawn Oliver recovered a Northwestern State fumble on the ensuing kickoff and returned it 21 yards for the touchdown to put LA Tech ahead, 10-7.
Special teams once again delivered for the Bulldogs later in the first half when LA Tech’s defense forced a punt, which resulted in Teddy Veal’s highlight-reel 71-yard punt return for a touchdown to increase Tech’s lead to 17-7 over Northwestern State.
A Northwestern State field goal cut the lead to seven, but LA Tech responded with yet another big play after J’Mar Smith connected with Javonte Woodard for 53 yards before Jarred Craft punched it in for the touchdown from two yards out to give Tech a 24-10 lead before half.
Back-to-back fumbles by Tech to start the third quarter opened the door for the Demons. Northwestern State capitalized on a three-yard TD run and a 27-yard TD pass to tie the game at 24-24 with 13:05 to play in the quarter.
Following some empty possessions by both teams, Tech finally retook the lead on a nine-play, 74-yard drive that was capped by a four-yard touchdown run by red-shirt sophomore Jaqwis Dancy. It was the first career TD for Dancy, who missed all of last season after battling Stage 5 Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“The touchdown, that was very emotional,” said Dancy. “I really broke down a little bit and I thanked Jesus for like everything that He did and brought me through.”
Tech added three scores in the final 15 minutes, including a Craft two-yard plunge and 17-yard reception and a 36-yard strike from Smith to wide receiver Rashid Bonnette.
After losing the Conference USA MVP in quarterback Ryan Higgins and a pair of Biletnikoff semifinalists in wide receivers Trent Taylor and Carlos Henderson to the NFL, the Bulldog offense appeared to search for an identity at times.
Smith ended the night completing 18-of-35 passes for 276 yards and two scores, but looked hesitant at times in only his second career start. Despite the struggles, Tech amassed 497 yards and 52 points in the game.
Defensively, Tech forced three turnovers – two interceptions by Dae’Von Washington and a fumble recovery by Oliver – while also recording three sacks (Jordan Bradford, Courtney Wallace and Deldrick Canty). The Bulldogs registered six tackles for loss and six quarterback hurries on the night.
“Yeah, I always talk about giving the ball back to the offense,” said Canty. “We always want to set our offense up to make plays, so our defense, we stress it a lot to always try to do our best and make sure we get three-and-out, or do our best to get a ball and make sure the offense don't score. It goes pretty good both ways.”
LA Tech will now turn its attention to next week when the Bulldogs host SEC foe Mississippi State at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 9 at Joe Aillet Stadium in Ruston.