THIBODAUX – A lot was on the line in Nicholls’ game last Saturday against Houston Baptist at Guidry Stadium.
A 38-31 triumph the previous week at Incarnate Word gave the Colonels six wins and guaranteed Nicholls its first winning season since a 6-5 finish in 2007. A victory over Houston Baptist would allow NSU to finish unbeaten at home for only the third time in school history while solidifying its ranking in the Top 25 while also remaining in Southland Conference title contention.
As has been the case since their arrival in Thibodaux, a strong contingent of Colonel defenders from the River Parishes were on the field when the game was on the line.
Fighting back from a one-time deficit of 14-3, the Colonels were clinging to a 17-14 edge and seeking another defensive stop.
The Colonels seemed to get it when sophomore linebacker Evan Veron, a Riverside Academy product, intercepted the first pass of his Nicholls career with 3:37 left in the game.
“The quarterback dropped back, he looked to the sideline and I just broke and caught the pick,” Veron said.
It appeared the game might be over at that point – but Veron was more cautious.
“There was still two minutes left on the clock (actually 3:37). It ain’t over ‘til it’s over,’ said Veron, stealing a phrase from Yogi Berra as easily as he did a pass from Huskies quarterback Bailey Zappe.
Veron had good reason for concern as a scrappy Houston Baptist team got the ball back with 1:19 left in the game still trailing by three points.
Two plays into the possession, another River Parish player seemed to come to the rescue when junior defensive back Ahmani Martin came up with an interception of his own. The East St. John product’s interception was wiped away however, when Hezekiah White, a native of Boutte and former John Curtis standout, was called for roughing the passer and ejected for targeting.
“We just preach ‘one blade of grass,’ and just make the plays. It really doesn’t matter who makes the plays,” said Martin.
“They are good football players,” Tim Rebowe, Nicholls’ coach and a River Parish native himself said. “Evan Veron got an interception and ole No. 44 (Ahmani Martin) he got another one and broke on the ball and made a great play. Unfortunately, we had the late hit.”
The late hit gave the Huskies new life, ultimately leading to a 50-yard field goal by Alec Chadwick to tie the game with 23 seconds remaining.
A 24-yard kickoff return by Mason Roberts gave Nicholls the ball at its own 48. Facing third-and-2 from the Houston Baptist 44 and out of timeouts and only seconds remaining, the Colonels were looking for a quick pass to the sideline to set up a potential game-winning field goal.
Nicholls quarterback Chase Fourcade was forced to drift to his left in order to buy more time from the Houston Baptist rush. With a Huskies defender clinging to his jersey, Fourcade put the ball in the air. Dai’Jean Dixon reached back the slightly underthrown ball. He bobbled the ball to himself, hauled it in and raced the final 15 yards on the final play of the game to give Nicholls a 23-17 victory.
“Chase has a big heart. Coach (Rebowe) just wanted him to throw a little out pass so we could get a little closer for a field goal but he saw it open and he said, ‘let me try it out,’ and that’s what big players do,” said Nicholls sophomore defensive lineman Sully Laiche, a Lutcher product.
It was the kind of contest that in years past would have had Nicholls detractors saying it was yet another example of the Colonels finding a way to lose.
“That’s the difference from now on. We practice like we play from now on. We are always finding a way to the ‘W,” said Laiche.
Laiche, who had two sacks in the game, was one of five defenders from the River Parishes on the field down the stretch – joining Veron, Martin, White and Allen Pittman, a sophomore linebacker out of Destrehan.
“It’s something in that water. The River Parish guys all stick together. We like to mess with everybody on the team, ‘the River Parishes, the River Parishes, that’s where it’s at.’ Damn near the whole team is like River Parish players,” said Veron.
Among all the other factors in the game, the win over Houston Baptist gave the Colonels their sixth SLC victory – the most ever for Nicholls in a single season since joining the league in 1992.
The Colonels’ success has seemed like a long time in coming, but in another way, has developed quick quickly. With the help of strong River Parish recruits, Rebowe turned a team he inherited that had lost 18 games in a row into a winner, Top 25 program and conference contender by his third season.
One of the players who bought into the Rebowe era early was Martin. He signed up with Nicholls as part of Rebowe’s first recruiting class despite those 18 losses in a row.
“We’ve come a long way. I’ve seen it coming. When I was at East St. John and Coach Rebowe first got the job he was like, ‘I need you to come help me turn the program around.’ He came up with a plan and all we had to do as players was buy into the plan and we knew we would turn it around some kind of way,” Martin said.
Rebowe followed up his first signing class with a second that included impact players the likes of Laiche, Veron and Fourcade.
“Me, Chase, all the freshmen, we came in here and it was like, ‘alright, it’s either we will continue to lose or we will make a difference. The coaches did a real good job of getting us all here to try to make this a special place to play in – a tough place to play in – and that’s exactly what we are doing,” Laiche said.
While the River Parish contingent was on the field late when it counted, they also made an impact from the start against Houston Baptist.
Two plays into the game redshirt freshman linebacker Aquindas Steib of St. James forced a fumble that was recovered by Martin.
On Houston Baptist’s second possession of the game, Laiche came up with the first of his two sacks.
The origin of the Colonel turnaround from a once winless team to a more competitive squad began with arrival of the likes of Rebowe and Martin. The transition to a winner and playoff contender began at the start of the 2017 campaign.
“In fall camp, we had the mindset that we going to get things done. We are accomplishing goals day by day,” said Veron.
And the big plays just keep coming from the River Parish players.
“The River Parish players are making the plays. It seems like every time we come up somebody form the River Parishes is coming up with a big play,” Martin said.
“It’s fun playing with those guys,” said Laiche. “That’s like my brothers back there. They trust me, I trust them. Any play can be a big play for us.”