Southeastern Lions look to maintain Southland lead - WAFB 9 News Baton Rouge, Louisiana News, Weather, Sports

Southeastern Lions look to maintain Southland lead

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From SLU Athletics

HAMMOND – The No. 16/17 Southeastern Louisiana football team will look to maintain its spot atop the Southland Conference standings on Saturday, when it travels to face No. 24 Central Arkansas at 7 p.m. in Estes Stadium.

The Lions (7-2, 4-0 Southland) will look to extend their six-game winning streak – the program's longest since the 1978 season. To do so, it will have to get past the Bears (5-4, 2-2 Southland), who shared the league regular season title a year ago. Saturday's game will mark the second in a string of three straight games in which

Southeastern will face a nationally ranked opponent. Southeastern head coach Ron Roberts' squad went into last year's game with UCA with an undefeated conference record. The Lions will look to avoid repeating history, as in 2012 the Bears defeated Southeastern, 34-14 in Hammond.

"We have grown a lot as a program since last year and we hope to prove that against an extremely talented Central Arkansas team this Saturday," Roberts said. "UCA is a very dangerous team, especially in their home stadium, and (UCA head coach) Clint Conque does a great job having them ready to play. We have to continue doing the things we do well, but we also have to be ready for their best effort."

The game will be broadcast live on ESPN3. The game will also air on KSLU 90.9 FM, the flagship station of the Southeastern Sports Radio Network, as well as Northshore Broadcasting stations Kajun 107.1 FM and The Joint 104.7 FM. Fans can listen online at www.LionSports.net or on their smart phone using the TuneIn Radio app.

The Lions are coming off a huge 41-7 win at then-No. 4/7 McNeese State last Saturday. Southeastern jumped out to a 20-0 first half lead and never looked back in the battle of league unbeatens on the way to claiming sole possession of the Southland lead. The Lions outgained McNeese State, 439-191, in the victory.

Southeastern rushed for 284 yards versus the Cowboys, as sophomore Rasheed Harrell finished with a season-high 119 yards on the ground. The Lions are averaging 235.8 rushing yards this season and have rushed for a single-season school record 30 touchdowns. Junior quarterback Bryan Bennett leads the team with 621 rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns – the third-highest single-season total in school history. The sophomore trio of Harrell (471 yards, 7 TD), Xavier Roberson (388-4 TD) and Kody Sutton (323-5 TD) has bolstered the ground attack.

The Lions have been balanced throughout the year offensively, averaging 474.1 yards and 38.6 points per contest. Bennett has completed just over 62 percent of his passes, throwing for 1,867 yards and 11 touchdowns. Sophomore Jeff Smiley (36 catches, 468 yards, five touchdowns), senior Tony McCrea (27-505-1 TD) and senior Marquis Fruge' (20-310-2 TD) have been the Granada Hills, Calif. native's top targets.

Southeastern will be facing a UCA defense that has yielded 384.3 yards and 25.2 points per contest. Senior Justin Heard leads the Bears with 57 tackles, while the pass rushing tandem of sophomore Jonathan Woodard (7.0 sacks) and senior Markeith Gaines (5.5 sacks) has been very effective.

On offense, the Bears remain explosive despite the loss of 2012 Southland Offensive Player of the Year Wynrick Smothers to a season-ending injury. Junior Ryan Howard has stepped in admirably for Smothers, throwing for 1,087 yards and 10 touchdowns versus just three interceptions.

Howard has a wealth of receiving options, as eight different Bears have caught 20 or more passes on the year. Junior Dezmin Lewis leads the team with 38 catches for 567 yards. On the ground, the UCA pair of junior Willie Matthews (335 yards, 4 TD) and sophomore Blake Veasley (251-4 TD) carry the load for a UCA offense that is averaging 467.1 yards and 33.2 points per outing.

The Bears will be matching up with a Lion defense that is allowing 373 yards and 21.1 points per game. The linebacker duo of junior Drew Misita and senior Cqulin Hubert lead the team with 50 and 49 tackles, respectively. Junior Isiah Corbett has a team high seven sacks, while fellow defensive end Jacob Newman has a team-high 10.0 tackles for loss. In the secondary, junior Marice Sutton leads the team with three interceptions, while senior Theo Alexander and sophomore Harlan Miller have two picks each.

Both teams feature accurate kickers and dangerous return men. Senior Seth Sebastian has yet to miss a field goal (8-for-8) or point after attempt (45-for-45) while UCA junior Eddie Camara has made 6-of-9 field goals and 22 of 24 PAT's. Roberson (37.8 avg) and UCA freshman Jatavious Wilson (35.2 avg) are the top two kickoff return men in the league and have both brought back two kicks for touchdowns this season.

Southeastern is 1-5 all-time versus Central Arkansas and has never won in Conway. The last Lion win in the series came in 2009, when Southeastern earned a 25-21 victory in Hammond.

Saturday will be the final regular season road game for the Lions, who return to Strawberry Stadium to host two-time reigning national runner up and No. 6/7 Sam Houston State at 3 p.m. next Saturday. The game will be televised live on the Southland Television Network. The game will also air on KSLU 90.9 FM, the flagship station of the Southeastern Sports Radio Network, as well as Northshore Broadcasting stations Kajun 107.1 FM and The Joint 104.7 FM. Fans can listen online at www.LionSports.net or on their smart phone using the TuneIn Radio app.

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