NATCHITOCHES, La. (NSU) Northwestern State’s offense erupted Saturday as the Demons staged their first scrimmage after 10 preseason practices, piling up 444 passing yards and 645 overall in less than two hours of action in Turpin Stadium.
Four quarterbacks combined for 30 of 47 accuracy, including three touchdowns: 28 yards to baseball outfielder Kwan Adkins from junior Clay Holgorsen, a 60-yard bomb from redshirt freshman Kenny Sears to true freshman Myles Ward, and a 54-yard strike by senior J.D. Almond to junior Marquisian Chapman.
A 47-yard field goal by senior Eric Piccione ended the 1:46-long scrimmage on a high note. Piccione earlier hit a 38-yarder while redshirt freshman Austyn Fendrick nailed a 42-yarder.
Sophomore Jared West ran for 42 yards on four carries, including a 1-yard touchdown opening the scoring. The defense got on the board with a safety when a running back was tackled by senior linebacker Nick Pierotti and sophomore end Desmond Prejean.
“The tempo, offense and defense, was really good,” said fifth-year head coach Jay Thomas. “There was some good, and there was some bad, and the good thing is we have three weeks before we play and time to correct what we need to fix.
“It was the first time we’ve tackled live since spring, and we got better at tackling as the scrimmage went on,” he said. “I really felt good about the offense coming out and putting some drives together. It was the offense’s breakout day, no doubt. Overall, I’m pleased where we are at this point.”
Holgorsen (16-23) and Sears (5-10) each threw for 162 yards. Almond had 107 on 5-8 aim and true freshman Kaleb Fletcher went 4-6-1 for 13 yards. Chapman caught four passes for 95 yards, with junior H-back Charles Vaughn hauling in four for 82. Atkins, playing football for the first time in three years, posted 59 yards on three catches as 14 Demons made receptions.
“The offense did great,” said senior defensive end Lyn Clark, who led all defenders with eight tackles, including two sacks. “We had a great week of practice with them, and they stepped up today and executed. Clay and J.D. went out there and steered the ship.
“Big Charles Vaughn was out there catching passes like a tight end. The guy today I loved seeing get loose was Kwan. Seeing that transformation from baseball to football was like, wow. I wish I could do that on a baseball field.”
True freshman Stadford Anderson led seven rushers with 60 yards on 15 carries. Pierotti had six tackles, 1.5 for lost yardage while fellow senior linebacker Peyton Guidry notched five stops, two for loss.
Sophomore safety Ronald Malbrough had the morning’s only turnover, an interception.
“Both sides played good,” said Pierotti. “We were communicating and running to the ball well. It was fun to actually play real football today, tackling guys.”
Almond and Holgorsen each credited the line play with triggering the offensive success.
No doubt, we really moved the ball well, both in the air and on the ground. The guys up front are making improvements and that was obvious,” said Almond. “Jared West and Chris Jones are a great combination in the backfield, and we have receivers making plays all over the place.”
“We turned it around today, moved the ball down the field a lot. The offensive line gave us time, and the receivers made the plays. We got push off the ball and the run game opened up the passing game,” said Holgorsen. “We’ve just got to get better in the red zone.”
Defensive coordinator Brad Laird was pleased to have live tackling in all but the third-down segment of practice, when quarterbacks were off limits.
“A good scrimmage, really good to get on film. This is our 11th practice, and the first time live, you could tell early on. We had some missed tackles,” he said. “We made good plays, gave up some big plays. We’ve got to be consistent.”
New offensive coordinator Kyle Manley thought it was a productive day, with ebb and flow for both units.
“We got some really good situational work. There was good and bad all the way through, success for both sides of the ball. Overall, it was pretty good,” he said.
The Demons put in about 15 minutes of work on the kicking game before getting the 87-snap scrimmage underway shortly before 9 a.m.
The team gets a day off Sunday, then begins its last week of preseason camp Monday morning at 8. The major scrimmage of preseason is next Saturday morning in Turpin Stadium, before classes begin Aug. 21.