- Ronald Oswalt
NATCHITOCHES – From an atmosphere many rank among the most intimidating and electric in college football at LSU, the Northwestern State football team faces a different type of challenge Saturday.
The Demons (0-3) open Southland Conference play at 6 p.m. Saturday on ESPN3 in one of the more unique venues in the conference, Houston Baptist’s Husky Stadium.
All of Husky Stadium’s 5,000 seats are located on one side of the stadium, leaving no one behind the visiting bench. For most visitors, this produces an abnormal experience.
Northwestern State, however, doesn’t have to dig deep in its collective memory for how to handle a situation where, literally, no one is behind them.
Twenty-three days before kicking off against Houston Baptist (2-1) at 6 p.m. Saturday on ESPN3, the Demons found themselves in an eerily similar situation at UT Martin. The visiting stands at Hardy Graham Stadium had been condemned, leaving an empty seating section behind the Northwestern State bench for the Aug. 29 season opener.
“We have past experiences (with that type situation),” second-year head coach Brad Laird said. “I go back to last week. I talked to the guys on Sunday and continue to talk about it. Sunday through Friday, we’re in Turpin Stadium where there are purple seats. There’s not 100,000 people. There’s not a visitor’s side that’s not there. We build our own venue for what we can be Sunday through Friday.
“Why do I say that? This past Saturday, the atmosphere, the determination, that’s what we have to bottle up, no matter where we go. That’s where we have to be consistent. Whether we play in front of 100,000 or 1,000, we know what we can become if we do the things we did last week in order to prepare, not only Friday through Sunday, but also game day, making sure our preparation is good. We have to pull on past experiences – one, we’ve been there done that; two, we have to understand it’s internally on us to be successful.”
Saturday’s matchup marks Northwestern State’s second trip all-time to Husky Stadium.
In the first, the Demons emerged victorious, 10-7, on Eric Piccione’s 36-yard field goal as time expired on Oct. 28, 2017. That game marked the first time then-freshman Damian Thompson experienced Husky Stadium’s unique setup.
“It’s very different,” said Thompson, now a junior who has started the first three games of the season at defensive tackle. “You don’t have fans behind you cheering you on.”
The good news for the Demons is they have that recent experience of how to handle such a situation.
And listening to Thompson, it is clear Laird’s message about bottling up and carrying an atmosphere with his team has hit home.
“We’ve just got to bring the energy,” Thompson said. “Everybody as a whole has to bring their own enthusiasm and just come with it.”