Defense bounces back in NSU’s second spring scrimmage

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NATCHITOCHES – The shoe was on the other foot in the second scrimmage of Northwestern State’s spring football practice.

Saturday morning in Turpin Stadium, the Purple Swarm defense intercepted five passes and kept pressure on five Demon quarterbacks throughout the 90-snap scrimmage. After the offense piled up 694 yards and nine scores, seven touchdowns, in a 71-play scrimmage March 29, the production was reduced to 446 yards (352 passing) and five scores, with junior college transfer quarterback Shelton Eppler accounting for three of the four touchdowns.

“It’s the way it’s been all spring,” said new head coach Brad Laird. “In the first scrimmage the offense had a big day and today the defense bounced back. It’s good competition. We came up with turnovers, and tackling was a lot better. The more live reps we get, we’ll be better at it. We moved some guys around this week and that helped.”

Cornerbacks Dylan Wilson and Ian Edwards each had two interceptions. Wilson snatched a pass on the day’s first play and made a pick six on the final snap of the morning, in a two-minute competition. Malik Sonnier had the other pickoff, distributed evenly among five NSU quarterbacks.

“We have more stuff in, and that created some problems for the offensive line’s protection,” said defensive coordinator Mike Lucas. “Our defensive line did a good job of getting pressure on the quarterbacks and that contributed to the five interceptions. I’m really proud of the defensive backs to go after the ball and catch it. This whole thing is a process for our players to get better each day, and we got better today.”

Four defenders – Nick Forde, Desmond Prejean, Blake Stephenson, and Damian Thompson – led the way with four tackles. Prejean had 1 ½ sacks.

Eppler went 11 of 15 for 207 yards, and guided all four series producing touchdowns. Last year’s starter, Clay Holgorsen, was 6 of 10 for 83 yards. Sophomores Kenny Sears and Kaleb Fletcher and freshman Carl Randall combined to go 7-19 for 62 yards.

The offense didn’t score in its first 10 series, while suffering three interceptions. Then Eppler produced three touchdowns in eight plays.

The Trinity Valley Community College transfer led a seven-play, 65-yard drive ended by a 4-yard scoring run up the middle from walk-on freshman Alex Elam, then two snaps later fired a 45-yard strike for a touchdown to LSU transfer Jazz Ferguson. In his next chance, he bombed 78 yards to Jaylen Watson down the offensive sideline.

“We had some adversity hit us early, and I give credit to the defense. They came out flying around, playing with a lot of speed, pulling the trigger,” said offensive coordinator Brad Smiley, who was head coach for the past 11 seasons at TVCC.

“It was good for me to see how we reacted when we came out and did not have a lot of success in our first few series. We stayed positive on the sideline. That’s a big part of being a champion, handling adversity. We came back and made some plays,” he said.

In an overtime period, sophomore Austyn Fendrick nailed a 47-yard field goal into a stiff wind, then Eppler scored on a 2-yard run.

“It was good because we covered a lot of different scenarios,” said Laird. “We got a lot of teaching on situations we may encounter in the fall. We have a lot to work on, especially getting 11 penalties.”

The Demons head into the final week of spring practice with four workouts remaining, next Tuesday evening, Thursday morning and Friday afternoon before the 29th Annual Joe Delaney Bowl spring game next Saturday at noon.

We’re looking to finish strong,” said Laird. “We really look forward to the Delaney Bowl and the activities that night. There are a lot of people, a lot of former players and family members, coming in to support these young men and this program.”

Scoring
Alex Elam, 4 run
Jazz Ferguson, 45 pass from Shelton Eppler
Jaylen Watson, 78 pass from Eppler
Austin Fendrick 47 field goal
Eppler 2 run

Offensive Statistics

Passing (24-44-5, 352 yards, 2 TDs)
Shelton Eppler 11-15-1, 207 yards, 2 TDs; Clay Holgorsen 6-10-1, 83 yards; Kenny Sears 3-7-1, 35 yards; Kaleb Fletcher 4-11-1, 27 yards; Carl Randall 0-1-1.

Receiving (24-352, 2 TDs)
Marquisian Chapman 5-60; Bryson Bourque 5-36; McKane Kinchen 3-43; Gavin Landry 3-35; Kendrick Price 2-19; Xavier Bell 2-13; Jaylen Watson 1-78, TD; Jazz Ferguson 1-45, TD; Da’Von Smith 1-15; Kalen Meggs 1-8.

Rushing (37-94)
Stadford Anderson 15-38, Da’Von Smith 8-18, Clay Holgorsen 4-8, Shelton Eppler 3-8, 1 TD; Trevor Morgan 2-12, Kenny Sears 2-7; Alex Elam 1-4, TD; Kaleb Fletcher 2-1; Carl Randall 2-for-minus 2.

Defensive Statistics
Desmond Prejean 4 tackles, 1.5 sacks; Damian Thompson 4 tackles, .5 sack; Nick Forde 4 tackles .5 TFL; Blake Stephenson 4 tackles; Isaiah Longino 3.5 tackles; Ryan Reed 3.5 tackles; Keldrick Ward 3.5 tackles; Ronald Malbrough 3.5 tackles, 1 TFL; John-Alex Perkins 2.5 tackles, 1 TFL; Malik Sonnier 2.5 tackles; 1 INT; Landon King 2 tackles; Kevin Ratliff 2 tackles, 1 TFL; Qunidarrius Whitley 2 tackles; Brice Borgeson 1.5 tackles; Deshon Ficklin 1.5 tackles, 1 PBU; Hayden Bourgeois 1 tackle; Rashaun Croney 1 tackle; Dez Gray 1 tackle; Braylon Daigle .5 tackle; Zak Duke Dantzler .5 tackle; Obinna Iheoma .5 tackle; Zak Krolczyk 1 sack, .5 tackle; Rashuad Powell .5 tackle; Ronald Sims 1 PBU, .5 tackle; Tevyn Johnson 1 sack; Dylan Wilson 2 INT, .5 tackle; Ricky Chatman 1 hurry, .5 tackle; Ian Edwards 2 INT; Jalon Sangster PBU.

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