THIBODAUX – Once again, players from River Parish high schools played a prominent role in a Nicholls victory.
As the Colonels’ offense struggled early in their season opener against McNeese State on Thursday night at a nearly-packed house at Guidry Stadium, a Nicholls defense – featuring a strong contingent of River Parish players – kept NSU in the game, ultimately allowing for a dramatic last-second victory.
The Colonels’ defense continually had their backs against the wall because of unfavorable field position – set up by mistakes from the Nicholls offense – including a pair of blocked punts. The Nicholls defense forced McNeese into field goals and what easily could have been a 21-7 lead was a 9-7 margin.
Nicholls’ offense finally got on track on its final drive with Lorran Fonseca kicking a 32-yard field goal on the game’s final play for a 37-35 Southland Conference victory for the Colonels.
“On defense, every day we preach ‘one blade of grass, one blade of grass.’ That’s all we need when it comes down to it. No matter how many yards they get in the middle and between the series, all we need is ‘one blade of grass’ – keep them out of the end zone no matter if it’s a field goal, we get off the field and we always have a chance. We really call it ‘Colonel Defense,’” said defensive back Ahmani Martin.
Martin, a junior out of East St. John, played a prominent role in the triumph. Martin led the Colonels in tackles with eight total tackles.
Of the Colonels’ top five leaders in tackles in the game, four were River Parish natives.
Allen Pittman from Destrehan High had seven tackles. Hezekiah White, who prepped at John Curtis but is a Boutte native, had 5.5 tackles and an interception. Lutcher’s Sully Laiche had 4.5 tackles, including a sack and two tackles behind the line.
Another River Parish native, Evan Veron of Riverside Academy had 3.5 tackles in less than half the game. Veron was not around for the finish, having been flagged for targeting and ejected in the second quarter.
“We have good players on this team from the river, there’s no doubt, and we will continue to do that. When you have Sully and Ahmani Martin and those guys making plays and the list goes on and on, we will continue to keep getting those guys,” said Nicholls coach Tim Rebowe, a River Parish guy himself and a former Destrehan High head coach.
From the start, Colonel defenders took the ‘one blade of grass’ mantra to heart.
“Our defense did a real good job of stepping up when our offense was struggling a little bit,” Laiche said. “They weren’t clicking at first but they finally got it at the end of the game. Our d-line, how hard we practiced, it really showed today.
“Coach (Rebowe) always talks about ‘one blade of grass,’ – tonight it showed what Colonel defense is all about. From somebody getting hurt to ‘oh, we need another guy,’ it didn’t matter who we put out there; they were playing ‘Colonel Defense.’
The tone was set early as McNeese drove on the opening possession of the game but the Colonel defense eventually forced a field goal.
Nicholls bounced right back on offense to gain a 7-3 lead on its initial possession of the season on a 62-yard pass from sophomore quarterback Chase Fourcade to Damion Jeanpierre.
The Nicholls offense bogged down at that point. Meanwhile, the Cowboys recovered a fumble and blocked a punt deep in Colonels territory but managed only two field goals the remainder of the opening half to lead 9-7 at the break.
Along with missing out on two potential touchdowns, McNeese failed to add points at the end of the half when Jay Jay Smith blocked a 28-yard Cowboys field-goal attempt on the final play of the second quarter.
The Cowboys blocked another punt to open the second half and this time McNeese took full advantage on a 30-yard pass from quarterback James Tabary to Tavarious Battiste to stretch the lead to 16-7.
Just as McNeese seemed poised to gain control, the Nicholls defense came up big once more when Jonavon Lewis returned an interception 67 yards for a touchdown to narrow the margin to 16-14.
The Colonel defense forced a punt but Nicholls lost the ball at its own 22-yard line two plays into the ensuing drive on a Dontrell Taylor fumble.
McNeese took advantage quickly on a 9-yard touchdown reception by Darious Crawley but the Colonels blocked the conversion, leaving the game at an eight-point margin at 22-14.
The teams began to trade scores at that point, including a 77-yard strike from Fourcade to Jeanpierre that made it 22-21.
Nicholls gained its first lead since the early portions of the contest at 29-27 on a 12-yard touchdown pass from Fourcade to Raheem Falkins and stretched it to 34-29 with 5:43 left in the game on a 19-yard run by Fourcade that came only one play after an interception by White.
“The defense played great tonight, even though we had some hiccups in coverages and against the run a little bit but the defense played great. We never gave up. The d-line played awesome. They were getting pressure and taking on blocks and allowing linebackers and DBs to make plays,” White said.
McNeese regained the lead on the ensuing drive on a 10-yard run by Nick Edwards. A two-point conversion attempt failed, leaving Nicholls down by a point at 35-34 with 3:02 left in the game.
Nicholls reached the McNeese 15-yard line in the closing moments to set up Fonseca’s game-winning kick.
Once again, River Parish players played a major role in a win and the turnaround of a program at had gone through a winless season the year before Rebowe arrived to one on the brink of being nationally ranked.
“All the players in the River Parishes have great athletes. With it being so close to Nicholls and getting some of those good guys to come over, it’s big. It helped turn around the program, and at the same time, it helped win some ball games,” Martin said.
“Coach loves the River Parish guys. You have guys like Sully Laiche, who is a great player for us. Evan Veron has a high motor and always is making plays. We have Ahmani Martin and guys like that. The River Parishes is flooded with talent and I hope we keep getting more,” chimed in White.