First preseason scrimmage shows good things in all three phases for Demons

NATCHITOCHES – Both the offensive and defensive units had their moments Saturday morning during Northwestern State’s first preseason game of fall camp.

Hayden Bourgeois (left) tackles Tanner Ash after Ash made a catch in Saturday’s first preseason scrimmage of Northwestern State’s fall camp. Credit: Chris Reich/NSU Photographic Services

It was the Purple Swarm defense, however, that made a few more of each group’s signature plays.

Jomard Valsin had three of the unit’s eight sacks as the Demons went through a 75-play intrasquad competition at Turpin Stadium to wrap up the first week of preseason camp.

“You saw good things in all three areas,” second-year head coach Brad Laird said. “The negative plays we created on defense. The big plays on offense. The couple by Tanner Ash. Curtis Williams the first score. You see the explosiveness we have on that side of the ball as well as the negative plays we can create defensively. Scotty (Roblow) was 3-of-4 on field goals. (Daniel) Justino was 3-for-3 on extra points.

“It’s practice No. 10 and not game No. 1. It’s great for this team and for this coaching staff to be able to look at, see where we are and go forward.”

Valsin and Ash are a pair of sophomores who took those steps forward Saturday.

In addition to collecting three sacks, Valsin had a scrimmage-best six tackles. All told, the Demons defense notched six tackles for loss by six different players.

“The defensive line got some penetration, something we’ve been harping on in camp,” associate head coach DeVon Lockett said. “Joey (McNeely) had an outstanding scrimmage, getting in the backfield. Valsin is an outstanding athlete who can rush the passer and can drop back in coverage. The twos and threes got penetration, which was good to see.”

Valsin is one of a deep crop of linebackers that led Laird and defensive coordinator Mike Lucas to adjust their defensive scheme.

“(The new scheme) fits me pretty well,” Valsin said. “(Saturday) was a very good performance. We executed the game plan coach Lucas and the staff had for us.”

Although the Purple Swarm defense was solid throughout the 90-minute competition, the NSU offense flashed its big-play ability as well.

Quarterbacks Shelton Eppler and Kaleb Fletcher each tossed a pair of touchdown passes, splitting them between four different receivers.

Fletcher connected on the first score of the day, capping a 5-for-5 drive with a 27-yard strike to a wide-open Curtis Williams down the middle of the field. Fletcher added a 25-yard scoring pass to junior tight end Corey Smallwood on the first play of a drive later in the scrimmage.

Fletcher finished 7-for-7 for 79 yards while Eppler connected on 6 of 9 passes for 124 yards including touchdown passes of 27 yards to Gavin Landry and a 39-yarder to Ash on the final play of the scrimmage.

Ash finished with scrimmage highs in receptions (5) and receiving yards (96), capping a strong first week of camp with the catch-and-run touchdown that ended a successful 2-minute drill for the NSU offense.

The Demons offense successfully navigated 68 yards in three plays as Stadford Anderson carried twice for 17 yards before a penalty against the defense set up the Eppler-to-Ash connection.

“(Wide receivers) coach (Alvin) Slaughter stresses do your job,” Ash said. “It was important for us to come out and execute. It wasn’t perfect. We’ll go in correct our mistakes and learn from it.”

Prior to Saturday, Laird stressed the importance of being able to get every available player on the field in a game-like situation. From that standpoint, the Demons succeeded Saturday.

“Everybody got the opportunity to play within the 75 plays,” Laird said. “We have some things to work out. We had nine penalties in 75 plays, five of which were pre-snap penalties. Last year, 42.5 percent of our penalties were pre-snap. We have to avoid getting behind the sticks.

“We got the first preseason game under our belt. We’ll watch the film, see what we did well, and correct the things we did wrong.”

The Demons will take Sunday off as a rest and recovery day before reconvening at 9:15 a.m. Monday to start their second full week of preseason camp, which ends with the second preseason game Aug. 17. Classes begin at Northwestern State Aug. 19, signaling the start of game-week style preparations for the Aug. 29 season opener at UT Martin.

SCORING
Curtis Williams 27 pass from Kaleb Fletcher (Daniel Justino kick)
Scott Roblow 36 FG
Gavin Landry 27 pass from Shelton Eppler (Justino kick)
Roblow 37 FG
Corey Smallwood 25 pass from Fletcher (Justino kick)
Roblow 36 FG
Tanner Ash 39 pass from Shelton Eppler (Roblow kick)

PASSING (20-30, 257 YARDS, 4 TDs)
Shelton Eppler 6-9, 124 yards, 2 TDs, Bryce Rivers 4-10, 26 yards, Kaleb Fletcher 7-7, 79 yards, 2 TDs, Zachary Clement 3-4, 28 yards.

RECEIVING (20-257, 4 TDs)
Tanner Ash 5-96 1 TD; Gavin Landry 4-36, 1 TD; Curtis Williams 4-44, 1 TD; Corey Smallwood 2-45, 1 TD; Aaron Howell 1-11; Akile Davis 1-13; TK Hamilton 1-6; Tyler O’Donoghue 1-11; Erik Hart 1-minus 5.

RUSHING (36-65)
Stadford Anderson 4-21; Trevor Morgan 8-20; Zachary Clement 4-17; JaQuan Jackson 3-10; Matthew Nelson 2-5; Curtis Williams 1-3; Da’Von Smith 3-0; Erik Hart 1-0; Kaleb Fletcher 1-minus 4; Bryce Rivers 8-minus 7.
PENALTIES: 9
TURNOVERS: 1

DEFENSIVE STATISTICS
Jomard Valsin Jr. 6 tackles, 3 sacks; Myles Mitchell 3 tackles, sack, TFL; Quin Whitley 3 tackles, FR; Jalen Angelle 3 tackles, FF; Ricky Chatman 3 tackles, TFL; Jackson Mathews 3 tackles, TFL; Matthew Pajinag 3 tackles, TFL; Isaiah Longino 3 tackles, Hayden Bourgeois 3 tackles, Kevin Ratliff 3 tackles, Adrion Robertson 3 tackles, Corban James 3 tackles, Tyson Ford 3 tackles; Kyle Moore 2 tackles, sack; Bishop Breaux 2 tackles, sack; Johnathan Daigle 2 tackles, sack; Khalil Sumlin 2 tackles, TFL; Darius Whitfield 2 tackles, TFL; Nathalohn Nanai 2 tackles, William Hooper 2 tackles; Kunta Hester Jr. 1 tackle, 2 PBU; Ian Edwards 1 tackle, PBU; Jared Pedraza 1 tackle, sack; Chandler Moncrief 1 tackle, 1 TFL; Keenan Leachman 1 tackle, TFL; O’Shea Jackson 1 tackle; Ryan Reed 1 tackle; Shemar Bartholomew 1 tackle; Damian Thompson 1 tackle; Ronald Malbrough 1 tackle; Isaiah Armstrong 1 tackle; Ja’Quay Pough 1 tackle; Cedric Anderson 1 tackle; JaBralen Yarber 1 tackle; Devin Gabriel 1 tackle; John-Alex Perkins PBU

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