Passing game sizzles for Demons in first spring scrimmage

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NATCHITOCHES – Three quarterbacks, including returning starter Shelton Eppler, combined to throw for 456 yards and five touchdowns in a 76-play competition Saturday morning that was the first major scrimmage of spring football practice for Northwestern State.

The 90-minute session in Turpin Stadium brought the Demons to the halfway point of spring ball. NSU has eight workdays left, including another scrimmage next Saturday morning and the 30th Annual Joe Delaney Bowl Saturday, March 30.

Second-year coach Brad Laird found a lot to like from the first major evaluation tool for the 2019 Demons.

“Good first scrimmage. Look at all three phases,” he said. “Offensively, they took advantage when we started at the 50, at the plus 40, in the red zone. Defensively, we came out strong with an interception right off the bat, had nine three-and-outs, and had six sacks. On special teams, we connected on all of our extra points and got good work done in the kicking game.

“I saw a lot of good, but there’s no shortage of things to fix and refine in our remaining eight practices,” he said. “I did like how we went about our business today. We had good energy on every snap.”

Eppler went 15 of 23 for 191 yards and threw touchdowns of 15 yards to Levar Gumms, 11 yards to Da’Von Smith and 8 yards to Stadford Anderson. He suffered the only interception of the day, but it skipped off the hands of the intended receiver before sophomore cornerback Shemar Bartholomew, a standout so far this spring, snatched it on the morning’s fifth snap.

“The command Shelton has of the offense at this stage is very good,” said Laird. “He’s very comfortable with what we’re doing. He did a great job leading the offense.”

Eppler finished his first season at NSU as the nation’s No. 6 passer in the FCS ranks, averaging 293 yards per game.

Junior Kaleb Fletcher was productive with 194 yards and two TDs on 10 of 14 accuracy. He connected with Kendrick Price on an 8-yarder and bombed 40 yards to Jalen Willis for the other score.

Anderson was one of six players with at least three receptions as 15 Demons caught at least one pass. A senior running back, Anderson had catches of 57 and 35 yards to go with his touchdown grab, which came just before a big collision in the end zone.

“Stadford had a couple big catches and a very difficult one for a touchdown,” said Laird. “He’s grown as a player over the past year. He’s better physically and he’s smarter. He’s had to step up without Jared West (NSU’s returning rusher, sitting out with an injury) and he’s setting a great tone.”

Sophomore Trevor Morgan provided the other touchdown for the Demons on a four-yard run, on the heels of a 10-yarder on the previous snap.

Sophomore defensive end Jomard Valsin had two of the six sacks among his team-high five tackles, and he batted away a pass. Sophomore linebacker Landon King had four stops, along with redshirt freshman cornerbacks Tobias Williams and Frederick Lee.

The Demons stage their eight practice Tuesday afternoon.

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