Northwestern State All-America candidates Jazz Ferguson and Hayden Bourgeois were first-team selections on the 2018 All-Southland Conference Football Team announced Tuesday, with Ferguson winning Offensive Player of the Year honors after a record-breaking season.
Ferguson, a junior wide receiver, and Bourgeois, a sophomore safety, rank among national leaders in the Football Championship subdivision in several statistical categories. Bourgeois was one of only two sophomores among the 29 first-team choices.
They were among seven NSU players recognized on the All-Southland announcement, with the honors voted by the league’s head coaches and sports information directors from its 11 football programs.
Demons receiving honorable mention all-conference accolades were junior quarterback Shelton Eppler, senior wide receiver Jaylen Watson, senior offensive lineman Frank Boudreaux, senior defensive end/linebacker Obinna Iheoma, and redshirt freshman kickoff returner Myles Ward.
Ferguson, a 6-5, 220-pound St. Francisville-West Feliciana High School product, set single-season school records with 1,117 receiving yards and 13 touchdown catches, while posting the second-highest receptions total (66) in school history. Watson was second in the Southland with 10 TD receptions, equaling the former school mark by Al Phillips in 1968.
Ferguson, who transferred from LSU and sat out the 2017 season with the Demons, also led the Southland with 66 receptions. He ranked sixth among all FCS players with his 13 touchdown grabs, ninth in receiving yardage, 14th in receiving yards per game (101.5), and 20th in receptions per game (6.0).
With six 100-yard receiving totals, Ferguson set another Demon season standard, along with his per game average shattering the former mark of 75.7 by All-American Ed Eagan in 2014. Ferguson also tied the school single-game record with three touchdown catches at Abilene Christian. He finished sixth all-time in single-season scoring with 82 points, 14 shy of Tony Taylor’s Demon best 96 in 1999.
Bourgeois, from Church Point and Notre Dame High School in Crowley, ranked third in FCS in total takeaways by making five interceptions and recovering two fumbles. The 5-11, 184-pounder also blocked a field goal that forced a second overtime, paving the way for a Ferguson touchdown catch from Eppler to beat 18th-ranked McNeese 37-34.
Bourgeois led the Demons from his safety’s spot with 83 tackles, 43 solo, including five for lost yards. His interception total ranked eighth in FCS and he stands 21st with two fumble recoveries. He also deflected a pass that was intercepted in the end zone by teammate Rashaun Croney in a 34-7 victory over Grambling when Bourgeois had his first two career interceptions.
He was the biggest contributor to the total of 26 takeaways created by NSU’s Purple Swarm defense, which ranked third nationally in turnovers forced, and third in fumble recoveries (13), and seventh in fourth-down defense, allowing only 28.6 percent conversions.
Iheoma, a 6-2, 224-pound senior from South Grand Praire, Texas, and Tyler Junior College, had 8.5 tackles for loss and a team-best eight sacks, fourth in the conference, while contributing eight quarterback hurries.
Watson, a 6-0, 191-pound Los Angeles native who came to NSU from Long Beach City College, followed an impressive junior campaign with a sensational senior year. His 761 yards rank sixth and his 51 catches are seventh in single-season school history. He finished fourth on the Demons’ career touchdown receptions rankings with 14 in his two seasons, best by any junior college transfer in NSU history.
Ward, a 5-10, 178-pounder from De La Salle High School, had a 94-yard kickoff return touchdown to spark the Demons’ final rally, a comeback from a 16-7 halftime deficit for a season-ending 35-23 victory last Thursday at Stephen F. Austin. He led the league with a 25.8 return average on 27 runbacks.
Boudreaux (6-4, 294) was the only NSU offensive lineman to start all 11 games, running his career total to 30 starts. The Plano, Texas, product, who graduated last spring, collected 159 knockdown blocks and 39 “mental toughness, extra effort” points with a single-game high of 22 knockdowns against Southeastern Louisiana.
He helped NSU set eight offensive team records and another 11 individual marks under first-year offensive coordinator Brad Smiley and new offensive line coach J Pond.
Eppler (6-1, 205) made his Demon debut impactful on school single-season and single-game record lists. Despite missing two games due to a concussion, he still led the Southland with 26 touchdown passes, two shy of the school record.
He twice had a school-record six TD throws, at Lamar and ACU. He shattered the single-season pass yards standard with 474 at Lamar in a 49-48 win over an eventual FCS playoff team.
The Navasota, Texas, native, who played for Smiley at Trinity Valley Community College in the past two seasons, posted 2,639 passing yards, third best at NSU all-time. His 293.2 game average set a new school mark and ranked sixth nationally, while his 26 TD throws was eighth in FCS.
Eppler was 12th in FCS with 22.1 completions per game. His 148.32 pass efficiency rating was 13th nationally and set another school record, topping 147.47 in 2015 by Stephen Rivers. NSU head coach Brad Laird’s rating of 137.88 in his senior season in 1995 is now eighth in school history.
With a season-opening streak of 143 attempts without an interception, Eppler broke Laird’s 1995 school record of 113 straight.
Nicholls junior quarterback Chase Fourcade, who led his team to a Southland co-championship and a first-round home playoff game, was voted the conference Player of the Year award. Incarnate Word’s Eric Morris, a first-year coach, sparked a turnaround season for the Cardinals that carried them into the FCS playoffs with a share of the league title and won Coach of the Year honors.
Senior linebacker B.J. Blunt of McNeese was chosen Defensive Player of the Year. UIW quarterback Jon Copeland won Freshman of the Year while the Newcomer of the Year honors were shared by Lamar quarterback Jordan Hoy and ACU running back Billy McCrary. Lamar’s Garrett Bowery was voted Offensive Lineman of the Year.
The Demons, with wins in three of their last four games, beat a nationally-ranked foe (McNeese) for the first time since 2014 and recorded a win over a Lamar team that reached the FCS playoffs. NSU was just three points shy (a 49-47 loss at ACU) of its first winning season since 2008, finishing 5-6 overall, 4-5 in the conference. The Demons should return all but 13 seniors for the 2019 season.