After setting four Northwestern State single-game records with a passing performance that included six touchdown passes, best by any NCAA Division I quarterback this season, Demons’ junior Shelton Eppler was in the spotlight Monday.
Eppler was voted Southland Conference and Louisiana Offensive Player of the Week on Monday, and was honorable mention for the STATS LLC Football Championship Subdivision national offensive player of the week award. Sunday morning, College Sports Madness tapped him for its Southland offensive honor.
The junior from Navasota, Texas, threw for 474 yards, the top passing total among the nation’s FCS quarterbacks last weekend and one yard shy of the season’s best by an FCS passer. Folding in totals from the Football Bowl Subdivision, Eppler’s yardage total was fourth-best in Division I for the past weekend.
His six TD passes were one of three school records he broke, along with the pass yardage mark and the standard for total offense in a game. He tied the NSU record with 36 points responsible for during the contest.
“Without my teammates’ support, I wouldn’t have been able to do that,” said Eppler. “All that matters is we’re 1-0. We got the win.”
Eppler’s six touchdowns were capped by a pair (70, 9 yards) to junior receiver Jazz Ferguson. The Trinity Valley Community College transfer started with a 17-yard strike over the middle to junior Quan Shorts late in the first quarter, then added second-period scores of 22 yards to true freshman Levar Gumms and 38 yards to senior Marquisian Chapman as the Demons raced to a 28-0 advantage.
After halftime, Lamar rallied into ties at 28 and 35, but could not contain Eppler and company with the game on the line. Eppler’s 11-yarder to senior Jaylen Watson broke the 28-all deadlock, then nine seconds after the Cardinals evened the score at 35, Eppler and Ferguson connected on the 70-yarder to lift the Demons ahead to stay. On the next series, NSU marched 58 yards in eight plays, the last a nine-yarder to Ferguson, who evaded defenders in front of the goalline and lunched across with 9:30 remaining.
“When they tied it up, we treated it as 0-0, and whoever put more points on the board from that point on was going to win. We didn’t panic, we just kept playing and executing to the best of our abilities,” said Eppler.
The 6-1, 205-pound Eppler has started the first three games for NSU (2-1 overall, 1-0 in the Southland) and the Demons have yet to commit a turnover, the first time in the program’s 41-year Division I history that it has gone through three contests without losing a fumble or suffering an interception. The Lamar game was the first one in which he’s gone the distance, when senior Clay Holgorsen became ill on game day.
Ironically, Eppler’s yardage record shattered Holgorsen’s school mark of 381 set last year at McNeese State.
The six TD passes topped five by Zach Adkins against Nicholls in 2014, when Adkins also ran for a score to account for 36 points. Eppler had four more TD throws a week earlier against Grambling, with his season total of 10 already better than any NSU quarterback last season.
Eppler was sacked once, leaving his total offense Saturday night at 469, a mark that bested the 465 (101 rushing, 364 passing) by future pro star Bobby Hebert against Texas-Arlington in 1981.
“The sack was on me,” he said. “I moved the wrong way. The offensive line did an awesome job for me to get the ball out to the receivers and running backs.”
His Louisiana player of the week recognition was the second for a Demon in as many weeks. After the Grambling game, sophomore safety Hayden Bourgeois was voted state Defensive Player of the Week for intercepting two Tigers passes and tipping a third that was intercepted in the end zone. A Louisiana Sports Writers Association panel of media voters chooses the Louisiana player of the week honors, while sports information directors in the conference vote on the Southland Conference awards.
The Demons enjoy an open date this weekend before resuming their season with a Southland test on Sept. 29 at Southeastern Louisiana, a 7 p.m. contest that will be carried by Cox Sports Television and out of the CST footprint, by ESPN3.