Eppler leads Northwestern State’s high-powered attack against Nicholls

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NATCHITOCHES– After nearly a month away from home, the Northwestern State football team’s high-powered offense faces a stout defensive unit from No. 12 Nicholls at Turpin Stadium Saturday at 6 p.m. in a Southland Conference contest.

Northwestern State (2-2 overall, 1-1 Southland) dug itself into a hole last Saturday against Southeastern Louisiana before fighting back, but ultimately fell 24-17 in Hammond despite 490 yards of offense. The Purple Swarm defense limited the Lions to only four first downs after halftime, 15 for the game, while the Demons rolled up 28, but managed just one offensive touchdown. The NSU defense scored another on a fumble recovery to get within seven in the fourth quarter.

Nicholls (3-2, 2-1 SLC) pulled away after halftime and pounded Lamar 50-27 last Saturday in Thibodaux. The Colonels started the season with a 26-23 overtime win at Kansas, but dropped road games at Tulane (42-17) and McNeese (20-10). The Colonels have righted the ship with two straight convincing victories over Sam Houston State (27-7) and Lamar.

NSU junior running back Jared West, playing with a heavy heart after the loss of his beloved uncle the week before, had a career day against Southeastern Louisiana. West rushed for 137 yards on 22 carries, which was the fourth most rushing yards in the FCS last weekend. He has run for 291 yards and two touchdowns in 2018.

“Our run game hadn’t been going well, so I just wanted to take matters into my own hands,” West said. “Of course it helps being behind our offensive line with their great blocking schemes. They played great, so I always applaud them for their efforts, along with the tight ends and receivers. It’s always a joint effort.”

After quarterback Shelton Eppler threw for 268 yards and a score last week, Eppler moved into the top 10 in single-season touchdown passes (11) in NSU history. In that category, he is 6th in the FCS and also ranks 15th in passing efficiency (158.9). The Demons are just one of six teams to not have had a pass intercepted this year.

In last year’s meeting, NSU kept pace with No. 25 Nicholls, but a late touchdown run by the Colonels’ Dontrell Taylor proved to be the difference in a 14-10 defensive struggle.

Overall, Nicholls has won two in a row, but the Demons hold the overall edge 28-17.
Forty years ago this month, NSU legend Joe Delaney had a school-record 299 yards rushing–including 263 after halftime–in a 28-18 Demons win over Nicholls.

Chase Fourcade, who was the Preseason All-SLC first team quarterback, leads a potent Nicholls attack that averages 442 yards of offense, and in the last two weeks has averaged 38.5 points. Fourcade is 20th in the FCS in passing yards and has thrown six touchdowns.

Nicholls’ offense is balanced, averaging 206 yards on the ground per game and 236 yards per game through the air. Five players have at least 150 yards rushing for the Colonels so far, led by Kendall Bussey, who had 123 yards and a touchdown in the win over Kansas. Fourcade is also a threat on the ground, as he has rushed for 245 yards, which is second most on the team.

“You look at the quarterback for Nicholls who’s been playing since he was a freshman,” said Demons’ head coach Brad Laird. “He drives the bus for their team. Up front, they have four of five starters back. For them, it starts up front offensively. They’re a very balanced football team.”

NSU junior wide receiver Jazz Ferguson had another tremendous game against Southeastern Louisiana, catching six passes for 117 yards, his third 100-yard receiving output in four games. The last Demon to have three such games in a season was Ed Eagan in 2014. The school record for 100-yard games in a season is four by Pat Palmer in 1996. On the season, Ferguson has 462 yards receiving, which ranks 12th in the FCS, and his 115.5 yards per game ranks ninth.

Even in defeat, the depth of the receiving core was on display at Southeastern Louisiana, as nine different players had at least one catch and seven had at least three catches. For the season, five players have at least a dozen catches and 10 have at least four grabs.

The Purple Swarm on defense forced three more turnovers and are now plus-9 on the turnover differential on the season, which is tied for first in the FCS. Four different players have intercepted a pass this season, led by sophomore safety Hayden Bourgeois’ three, which is tied for fourth in the FCS. Ten players have at least a half a sack, led by sophomore Isaiah Longino and senior Obi Iheoma with two each.

Junior linebacker Quindarrius Whitley is the leading tackler for the Demons with 29, followed by Bourgeois’ 24 and Longino and junior linebacker Blake Stephenson each with 23.

“We have to eliminate the big play,” Laird said. “We have to keep things in front of us and make them earn it. Discipline is going to be huge again. We’ll see some option from them with Chase at quarterback, so those are some things we have to do well on Saturday.”

Regional television coverage is on Cox Sports TV, streaming via ESPN3 outside Cox’s territory across most of Louisiana and markets in 17 other states (https://coxsportstv.com/affiliates/). Lyn Rollins, Stan Humphries and Carley McCord comprise the CST announcing crew, with Rollins and Humphries both members of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, Humphries for his football career in college and pro ball, and NSU alumnus Rollins as a broadcaster.

The Demon Sports Network broadcast team of Patrick Netherton and Tony Taglavore will call the game, starting with a 30-minute pregame show at 5:30. The network flagship station is 100.7 FM KZBL in Natchitoches with 101-7 FM and 710 KEEL AM in Shreveport, KBUCK 105.5 FM in Alexandria and 103.1 FM KWLA in Leesville-Many as affiliates. Free audio is available at NSUDemons.com.

The Demon Sports Network broadcast stream is also available anywhere on the new Northwestern State athletics app. The free app, which is available for both Apple and Android devices, houses news, videos, schedules and in-app streaming for Northwestern State athletic events.

Next week, NSU has its second home game in as many weeks when the Demons host another nationally ranked team, Sam Houston State, at Turpin Stadium.

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