Bears' Big Second-Half Comeback Stuns Northwestern State
Julian Burton
Julian Burton

Aug. 28, 2014

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NATCHITOCHES, La. - Missouri State kicked off the 2014 season in grand style Thursday evening, rallying from a 17-point second-half deficit to pull out a 34-27 victory over Northwestern State at Turpin Stadium. Kierra Harris matched a career high by passing for three touchdowns, including a 13-yard scoring strike to Gannon Sinclair with just over five minutes remaining in the game to put the Bears on top for good.

Trailing 24-7 midway through the third period with Northwestern State nearing the goal line once more, the Bears received the first of two key defensive plays by freshman Colby Isbell that helped turn the tide in MSU's favor. After NSU quarterback Zach Adkins passed for 223 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the first half to stake the Demons to 17-point leads on two different occasions, the home team picked up right where it left off to start the second half, as the Demons moved the ball inside the Bears' 5-yard line with a 14-play drive that covered 85 yards.

But Isbell stripped a hard-charging Garrett Atzenweiler of the football at the goal line, then scooped up the loose ball to thwart the scoring threat and provide perhaps the biggest momentum swing of the night.

Harris and the Bears offense followed with their best drive of the night, marching 97 yards on 14 plays to find pay dirt, using a 15-yard Harris touchdown toss to Eric Christophel to slice the NSU lead to 24-14 with 3:00 left in the third period. MSU's senior signal-caller led the charge, reeling off first-down runs of seven yards or more on three separate occasions, before capping the drive with his second TD pass of the game.



After NSU's Chris Moore booted his second field goal of the game--a 44-yarder--just six seconds into the fourth quarter, Harris went to work through the air this time, hooking up with Burton on a 61-yard pass play that set up the Bears with a first and goal at the NSU 4. Three plays later, Harris took it over the goal line himself to draw the Bears to within 27-21 at the 13:23 mark.

NSU had a chance to put the game away on its ensuing drive when Adkins connected with Ed Eagan for a pair of key completions to move the ball to the Bears' 35. But the MSU defense held, this time forcing a 48-yard try by Moore that would have stretched the lead to nine points with just over nine minutes to play. Once again, Isbell played the role of spoiler, getting a hand on Moore's kick to leave it well short of the goal posts to set up his offense for one final push.

It would be the tandem of Calan Crowder and Sinclair who would keep the Demons on their collective heals throughout the decisive drive. Harris hit Sinclair with a 14-yard pass to bring the Bears past midfield, before Crowder would chew up 30 yards on the ground over the following eight plays to move the ball to the NSU 19. The third prong of the Bears' second-half ground attack--Phoenix Johnson--picked up six yards to give MSU a first down at the 13, and Sinclair took over from there, hauling in Harris' pass and stretching the ball across the goal line for the go-ahead touchdown with 5:15 to play.

MSU's resurgent defense forced a three-and-out on the next possession, and Johnson's 19 rushing yards on four carries helped drain nearly three minutes off the clock before the Bears were forced to punt with just 30 seconds on the clock. James Barnes added the punctuation mark on MSU's memorable comeback by picking off a last-ditch NSU lateral and carrying it into the end zone to account for the final margin.

Harris, who completed 11-of-22 passes for 195 yards, accounted for 261 yards of total offense and helped spearhead MSU's three-pronged rushing attack that racked up 158 yards on the ground in the second half. Johnson led MSU with 71 yards on 15 carries, while Harris totaled 66 ground yards and Crowder finished with 62 to help the Bears outscore the Demons 27-3 in the second half.

Burton, who caught a team-high four passes, eclipsed his previous single-game best receiving effort with 140 yards. The senior also stretched his streak of games with at least one reception to 21 in a row.

The dramatic finish, which saw MSU halt a 12-game skid in non-conference games that dated back to the 2010 season, came on the heels of a rocky start that saw the home club dominate all phases of the game to build an early 17-0 lead. Northwestern State wasted little time in seizing control of the contest, needing just six plays to gain the upper hand over the Bears. Adkins went 4-for-4 through the air on the game's opening drive to set up De'Mard Llorens' 53-yard scoring burst up the middle to put the home club in front, 7-0.

The Demons' defense began the new year on a high note as well, stifling the Bears' offense deep in its own territory on back-to-back possessions to allow Adkins and company to extend the early lead. After the MSU offense was held to seven yards on its first possession of the season, NSU took advantage of a short field, with Adkins directing another Demons' scoring march by completing his next two passes to set up a 41-yard field goal by Moore that made it a 10-0 game.

NSU finished the opening period with a commanding advantage in total offense (137-36), thanks in large part to a 9-for-12 passing effort by its senior quarterback.

But Adkins was even stronger in the second stanza, ripping a pair of touchdown strikes to Demon receivers to stretch the margin to 24-7 at the half. The Demons used just 1:56 of clock time in a 6-play, 77-yard drive that culminated in Adkins finding Ed Eagan for a 12-yard scoring pass on the right side with 8:08 to play in the half.

Down 17-0, Missouri State cut into the deficit on the heels of a big defensive play from Eric Phillips, who stepped in front of an Adkins delivery for his first career interception at the NSU 41. On the ensuing play, Harris connected with Burton in the end zone for a 41-yard scoring play to pull the Bears within 10 points again.

The Demons (0-1) answered with a big play of their own when Bryan Mitchell shook loose from a Bears' defender and hauled in a 28-yard reception from Adkins for another NSU touchdown and a 24-7 advantage.

Adkins finished the first half 19-of-26 for 223 yards, while the Demons amassed 328 yards of total offense over the first 30 minutes of play. The senior would end the night 31-of-42 for 318 yards and two touchdowns, while Eagan topped the 100-yard receiving mark (107) with a game-high nine receptions and Llorens logged a game-high 94 rushing yards on 11 carries. In addition to the big plays turned in by Phillips and Isbell in their first game action as Bears, the MSU defense received a lift from a pair of veteran forces in Caleb Schaffitzel and Dylan Cole, who each tallied a team-high eight tackles.

The Bears (1-0) return to action next Saturday (Sept. 6) when they travel to Stillwater, Okla., to take on Big 12 power Oklahoma State at 2:30 p.m. in a game that will be televised live on Fox Sports Net.

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