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River Parish-led defense sets early tone in Nicholls playoff victory

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  • Alumni
  • By:
  • George Becnel
  • Posted:
  • November 25, 2018 - 1:55pm

Former Riverside Academy star Evan Veron came up with an early fumble recovery to set up a touchdown in Nicholls' 49-30 FCS playoff win Saturday afternoon over San Diego.

THIBODAUX – With Nicholls’ Football Championship Subdivision playoff opener against visiting San Diego starting off like it might be a trade-for-trade marathon, the River Parish duo of Sully Laiche and Evan Veron, like usual, came up big for the Colonels.

After Nicholls had scored to take a 14-0 lead with 7:17 remaining in the opening quarter, the Toreros were on the move again.

On first-and-10 from the Nicholls 35, Laiche, a former star defensive lineman from Lutcher, stripped the ball from San Diego running back Terrence Smith. Evan, a product of Riverside Academy, was on the spot to make the fumble recovery.

The Colonel offense took advantage when quarterback Chase Fourcade scored on a 19-yard line.

Instead of a potential 14-14 tie, Nicholls suddenly had a 14-point spread at 21-7 that the Colonels were able to build upon on their way to a 49-30 triumph.

“It was definitely a big play,” Veron said of the fumble recovery. “Sully got in the backfield and I had gotten in the backfield, too. He hit the running back before I did and I tried to do something. I stripped the ball once I saw Sully had secured the tackle and the rest is history.”

“Big-time players show up big in big-time games,” said Laiche. “Somebody needed to make a play. I wrapped him up and Evan stripped it and the rest takes care of itself.”

It also pretty much took care of the Toreros.

“I think that’s when the game got away from us,” said San Diego coach Dale Lindsey. “When we got back to 7-7, I was, ‘OK, it’s a new game,’ but we couldn’t hang on. We were playing a real good team and we gave away 14 points and that’s not good football. We dug ourselves a big hole. The final score was 49-20. You take the 14 points away and it’s 35-30 and you have a chance to win the game, but you can’t take it away.”

Toreros quarterback Anthony Lawrence passed for 322 yards and four touchdowns against the Nicholls defense but it took 56 attempts.

San Diego had no choice but to throw the ball with a non-existent running attack against the Colonel defense on Saturday afternoon.

“I played against San Diego State and North Dakota and that (Nicholls) defense was as athletic and ferocious as any I’ve played against. They have a lot of guys that can do a lot of things. They can run and they can hit. It’s a recipe for success for a defense,” said Lawrence.

“They have an incredible d-line,” Lawrence added. “They are probably six deep at d-line and were all animals and rush the passer and stop the run.”

Lawrence counted Laiche and Veron among the “animals.”

“If he just sits back there, he can throw passes all day and he will be the calmest quarterback ever. When you get a couple of guys like us smacking him around, he will second-guess his throws,” said Laiche.

“You have to hit him in the mouth, for sure. We take a lot of pride in getting to the quarterback,” Veron said.

Lawrence got his yards through the air. While the Nicholls defense didn’t sack Lawrence, they put enough consistent pressure to alter some things and keep the Toreros away from the big play.

“He’s one of the top quarterbacks in the country and I can see why,” said Colonel defensive back Ahmani Martin, who prepped at East St. John. “He can put the ball in spots where he wanted them. He had a nice touch but it all came down to us going and challenging them and making the plays when we had to.

“We took pride in not giving up big plays. If we give up a throw, it’s a big thing for us to catch and tackle. We’ve been preaching that all week. The quarterback is good and we knew he would get some but all w had to do is when they catch it, we tackle them and not give them (extra yards.”

The Colonel defense gave up virtually no yards on the ground, holding San Diego to nine yards rushing on 14 attempts.

“When you shut down the run like that, it opens up the game to so many different levels. You know the screens are coming, the drop-back, quick game, all that’s coming. That’s really what we strive at; our best is getting after the quarterback. If you stop the run, you will have fun on third down, that’s our mindset,” Laiche explained.

The Nicholls defense held the Toreros to 5 of 15 on third-down conversion attempts but allowed 3 of 4 fourth-down conversions.

“They got too many,” said Veron. “In the moment, it kind of messes with you but you have to have a one-play mentality.”

“When they said they were 5 of 15 on third downs, we looked at each other like, ‘they did not,’ bit I guess it was the fourth-down conversions,” Martin said.

“We have to do a lot better job of getting off the field on third and fourth downs. We can’t let that happen,” added Veron.

Nicholls built a 35-10 halftime lead before the Toreros scored three second-half touchdowns in a span of slightly more than seven minutes to cut the margin to 42-30 with 14:50 left in the game.

The first score came on a 38-yard flea-flicker pass from Lawrence to Dalton Kincaid.

Although San Diego scored, Colonel defenders said they felt they had the game in hand when the Toreros had to resort to trick plays.

“When they start running the trick plays, it was almost like they had gotten the message that they can’t run the ball,” said Martin.

Players such as Laiche, Veron and Martin chose to stay close to home to play college football. Now, they get to take the long journey to Eastern Washington for the second round of the playoffs.

“This whole playoffs, it’s just win and advance,” said Martin.

George Becnel | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

George Becnel is an award-winning journalist and has been a sports writer and editor for more than 30 years.