Northwestern State readies for Dawgs

For Northwestern State, this is an opportunity for exposure, not to mention a big paycheck.

Northwestern State is big enough to be the alma mater of such former NFL players as New Orleans and Atlanta quarterback Bobby Hebert and New York Giants linebacker Gary Reasons.

But the Southland Conference school in Natchitoches, La., is a I-AA program, so there are financial limitations.

For example, in order to save money in the budget, Coach Gary Stoker's team is bussing to Athens for Saturday's 1 p.m. game at No. 8 Georgia.

The Demons will leave Natchitoches on Thursday, stay in Birmingham Thursday night while planning to find time for a visit to the Bear Bryant Museum, and then drive on to Athens for a practice at Sanford Stadium Friday afternoon.

Considering that Northwestern State (3-0) played in a 5,000-seat stadium in last Saturday's 34-14 win at Delaware State - they flew to Delaware -  the idea of playing before 87,000 fans at Sanford Stadium is a big deal.

Even so, playing I-A opponents is not new for Northwestern State. Last season, the Demons took perhaps the biggest win in their history by upsetting Texas Christian 27-24 in overtime. Later in the 2001 season, Northwestern State lost to Oklahoma State 24-0.

Stoker - a former Northwestern State quarterback - is taking a realistic approach to Saturday's game.

"To put it bluntly, they're playing with a bunch of blue chip players, and we're playing with a bunch of blue collar players,'' Stoker said in a telephone interview.

Northwestern State has advanced to the I-AA playoffs three of the last five years and last season gave eventual champion Montana its toughest playoff test in a 28-19 loss.

Could last year's win at TCU provide some carryover for the game at Georgia?

"Obviously, that's the biggest win here, there's no question about it,'' said the 34-year-old Stoker.

"It's not a knock on TCU, but this is the Southeastern Conference. This is the elite level of football. I'm not taking anything away from TCU or Oklahoma State. That's the main thing I told the players, you're stepping up high in class here.''

While Georgia has struggled, especially on offense, in its first two wins, it will be expected to roll Saturday. But the offense which could not reach the end zone against South Carolina may be surprised by Northwestern State's veteran 4-2-5 defense which is led by free safety and return specialist Terrence McGee.

The game with Northwestern State was scheduled after Tulane backed out of its contract to play at Georgia this week.

For Northwestern State, this is an opportunity for exposure, not to mention a big paycheck for its share of gate receipts Saturday.

"I know our kids are excited just to be playing in that type of atmosphere, but I don't know if I'm glad,'' Stoker said. "I'm not exactly overwhelmed.''

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