Chief Caddo is coming home.
In what many Lumberjack fans hope is a sample of what may be to come in the future, the Stephen F. Austin football team ended difficult 2019 season on a high note, as the Lumberjacks exploded to a 27-0 second-quarter lead at Turpin Stadium Thursday night and then used its running game to cruise past the Northwestern State Demons, 32-20, in Natchitoches, La.
After a 733-day stay in Louisiana, the Lumberjacks will return to Texas with Chief Caddo in their possession. Not only that, the team hopes to build confidence off this season-ending victory.
The ’Jacks (3-9, 3-6 SLC) forced three turnovers, blocked a pair of punts and recovered an onside kick, as they came at the Demons with everything they had. The result was SFA scoring 24 points off of turnovers in the first half as the Lumberjacks built a 27-7 lead and NSU couldn’t overcome the deficit.
Then SFA’s ground game, which had struggled most of the season, got into high gear as the ’Jacks chewed up yardage and the clock in the second half. The Lumberjacks finished the contest with 232 yards on the ground, averaging 4.3 yards per rush. Josh McGowen was the top ground-gainer in the game with 158 yards on just 22 carries, averaging 7.2 yards per carry and scoring a TD. Thomas Hutchings added 75 yards and a score on 27 runs.
Sophomore quarterback Trae Self returned after missing the last two contests with a concussion, completing 15-of-29 passes for 177 yards, a TD and two interceptions.
The ’Jacks outgained the Demons 418-389 in total offense, while limiting NSU (3-9, 3-6 SLC) to only 56 yards on the ground.
SFA used a pair of partially blocked punts by redshirt-freshman JaTerious Evans, a fumble recovery by Gary Sampson and an onside kick recovery to build the 20-point halftime lead.
Senior kicker Storm Ruiz booted field goals of 54 and 41 in the first half, before adding a 44-yarder in the second half to help the scoring punch. Hutchings scored from seven yards out, McGowan hit paydirt from the 20 and Self connected with freshman Xavier Gipson — who caught seven passes for 98 yards — on a 55-yard scoring aerial as SFA scored the first 27 points of the game in the first 20 minutes of the contest.
After an SFA safety early in the third, NSU pulled to within 32-20 with 9:22 left in the fourth. The Demons’ Shemar Bartholomew picked off his second pass of the game in the NSU endzone, but the Demon drive was stopped inside the Lumberjack 10-yard line on fourth down and SFA was able to move the ball on the ground to run out the clock.