NATCHITOCHES — For all of the 468 passing yards the Northwestern State football team piled up Saturday morning in its first preseason game, new head coach Brad Laird was most proud of just seven.
Four quarterbacks and 15 receivers combined for 36 completions in 51 attempts with no interceptions as NSU scored five touchdowns and was perfect on three field goals in the 90-minute intrasquad competition at Turpin Stadium.
“We were productive in the things we wanted to get accomplished,” said Laird. “It was a good first scrimmage. We’re not where we want to be, but we are closer.
“Offensively, we protected the football and had no turnovers. We made good decisions at quarterback and played smart football on both sides.”
The last of three Austyn Fendrick field goals, and the second 41-yarder he nailed, came close to the end of the scrimmage. It capped a 10-play drive beginning with 1:39 left, with the offense starting at its own 32 trailing by two points.
“At the end, we’re in a two-minute situation, needing a field goal to win it, and have the ball with 12 seconds left, looking at close to a 50-yard field goal. We ran one more play, got seven more yards with the quarterback realizing where to go and the receiver knowing he had to get out of bounds,” said Laird. “Because we played situational football, we kicked a 41-yard field goal to win.”
Seniors Clay Holgorsen and Bryson Bourque connected on the seven-yard sideline pattern that set up the field goal. Holgorsen finished 15 of 20 for 142 yards, while his chief competitor for the starting quarterback’s job, junior Shelton Eppler, went 11 of 17 for 185, including a 7-yard touchdown to Stadford Anderson.
Sophomore Kaleb Fletcher went 8 for 12 with 111 passing yards, including a 35-yard strike to sophomore Gavin Landry, who led all receivers by snaring seven passes for 122 yards.
Eppler led three scoring drives, Holgerson and Fletcher two apiece, and Howell threw a perfectly-placed 25-yarder down the sideline to Gabe Ernest in a TD hookup between two true freshmen. Sophomore Kenny Sears sat out the competition with a bruised shoulder.
Bourque caught five passes for 52 yards, while transfers Quan Shorts (4-75) and Jazz Ferguson (4-68) were also particularly productive.
The morning’s first score, a 1-yard Da’Von Smith run, traced to a 58-yard Eppler-Shorts connection. Eppler later scampered across from seven yards, but was snagged for a safety by defensive tackle Damian Thompson in a “coming out” drill from the two.
Along with his two 41-yarders, Fendrick nailed a 33-yard field goal and was perfect on his five extra point kicks.
Junior safety Hayden Bourgeois led the defense with five tackles and a pass breakup, while true freshman safety Keenan Leachman had four stops and a breakup. Redshirt freshman linebacker Landon King made three stops with two for lost yards. True freshman linebacker Jomard Valsin collected a pair of sacks while sophomore linebacker Corban James blocked a punt.
“Early in the move the ball segment, the defense did a good job of getting off the field,” said Laird. “They competed hard. Nine of 18 possessions they forced a punt. We had a lot of positives.”
The Demons will take Sunday off after their first full week of preseason. Their 11th workout is at 9:15 Monday morning, kicking off another fully-focused week with the second preseason game next Saturday morning. Classes begin the following Monday, Aug. 20, when NSU’s attention will begin to fall on its first opponent, Texas A&M, which hosts the Demons Aug. 30.
— Doug Ireland, Northwestern Assistant Athletic Director/Media Relations