From SLU Athletics
HAMMOND – For the first time in 52 years, the Southeastern Louisiana Lions are champions.
The No. 14 Lions (9-2, 6-0 Southland) scored 24 unanswered points on the way to a 34-21 victory over No. 4 Sam Houston State (8-3, 4-2 Southland) Saturday afternoon at Strawberry Stadium. With its eighth consecutive win, Southeastern clinches a share of the Southland Conference title and its first-ever berth in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
Southeastern's conference championship is the program's first since 1961, when the Lions were the champions of the Gulf States Conference under legendary coach Stan Galloway. Southeastern, which tied a school record for single-season victories, will be part of the 24-team FCS playoff field, which will be announced on Sunday, Nov. 24 at 10:30 a.m. on ESPNU.
"This is a great night not only for our football team, but for our university and athletic programs as a whole," Southeastern head coach Ron Roberts said. "We're excited about the opportunity to represent the Southland Conference in the NCAA playoffs."
Southeastern battled back from an 11-point second quarter deficit to claim its sixth straight double-digit victory over a league opponent. Junior quarterback Bryan Bennett, a Walter Payton Award candidate, threw for 268 yards and three touchdowns, finding senior Marquis Fruge' on a pair of scoring tosses and also throwing a 62-yard touchdown to sophomore Xavier Roberson.
Junior Marquis Hayes rushed for a touchdown for the second straight week, while senior Seth Sebastian made two field goals to improve to 11-for-11 on the year on field goal tries. Bennett, who also led the Lions with 51 rushing yards, engineered a Southeastern offense that racked up 413 total yards – marking the fourth straight plus-400 yard performance.
While the Lion offense was explosive, it was the Lion defense that held the Bearkats without a point for the final 31 minutes of the contest. Junior Isiah Corbett led the Lions with five tackles for loss, two sacks and what proved to be a game-clinching interception. Junior Jacob Newman, senior Cqulin Hubert, senior Jeremy Williams, junior Marquel Combs and sophomore A.J. Bowen all had sacks for the Lions, while senior Kevin Harmon led the Lions with eight tackles and an interception.
Sam Houston jumped to a 7-0 lead late in the first quarter. After forcing Southeastern to punt from out of its end zone, the Bearkats took advantage of a short field and drove 39 yards on eight plays. Senior Richard Sincere caught a six-yard scoring toss from senior Brian Bell to cap the drive and put the Bearkats on top.
Southeastern was able to get on the board on its third drive of the game. Sebastian knocked in a 36-yard field goal to pull the Lions within 7-3 with 9:33 left in the second quarter.
The Bearkats quickly answered with a five-play, 68-yard scoring march. Sophomore Gerald Thomas hauled in a 21-yard Bell throw in the back right corner of the end zone to put Sam Houston State on top, 14-3, with 6:58 left in the half.
Southeastern finally found the end zone on its next possession. Fruge' hauled in a quick slant from Bennett, broke a tackle by SHSU junior Michael Wade and cruised into the end zone for a 38-yard touchdown to cut the Bearkat lead to 14-10 with 4:43 left in the first half.
The Bearkats, national runners up in each of the past two seasons, would keep coming, however. A 34-yard Bell run highlighted a nine-play, 61-yard scoring march. Senior Torrance Williams hauled in a seven yard throw from Bell to put the Bearkats up, 21-10, with 1:21 left in the opening half.
The minute-plus left on the clock was too much for Bennett and the quick strike Lion offense. Bennett completed four of six passes for 64 yards on a six-play, 65-yard scoring drive to close the half. Fruge' got free for a seven yard touchdown throw from Bennett to allow the Lions to head into halftime down 21-17.
Just three plays into the second half, the Lions took the lead for good. Roberson slipped out of the backfield on a wheel route, took in Bennett's pass and cruised in untouched from 62 yards out to give the Lions a 24-21 lead just over a minute into the second half.
The two teams traded punts over the next several possessions before the Lions pushed the lead to 10. Bennett found Smiley three times on a 12-play, 75-yard march. Hayes covered the last 18 yards, racing in on an end around to give Southeastern a 31-21 lead with 3:53 left in the third quarter.
Sam Houston State was not ready to go away just yet, however, as Bell drove Sam Houston State deep into the Lion territory heading into the fourth quarter. On the first play of the final period, Bell tried to set up a short pass from the Lion 16-yard line. Corbett snatched the pass and returned it 61 yards to the Bearkat 19-yard line. Three plays later, Sebastian put in a 31-yard field goal to put the Lions up, 34-21, with 13:06 left.
On the ensuing drive, Bell ripped off a 24-yard run to put the Bearkats into the red zone but was knocked out of the game on the play. Three plays later, Harmon intercepted freshman quarterback Don King III in the back of the end zone to end the Bearkats scoring threat.
Bearkats' third quarterback of the game, freshman Jared Johnson moved Sam
Houston State all the way down to the three-yard line and a first and goal
opportunity. From there, the Lion defense would make the stand that clinched
On first down, Harmon threw senior running back Timothy Flanders for a six-yard loss. After a breakup by senior John Graves on second down, Newman sacked Johnson to set up fourth and goal at the Lion 15-yard line. Corbett forced Johnson to fumble and the Lions took over on downs with 2:48 remaining.
The Lions were forced to punt, but the Bearkats would not manage another first down. Johnson threw three incomplete passes and on fourth down, Hubert sacked Johnson to give the ball back to Southeastern. One Bennett kneel down later, the Lions were champions and celebrated as the student body charged the field.
Southeastern will close the 2013 regular season next Thursday, hosting Nicholls State at 6 p.m. in Strawberry Stadium for the River Bell Classic and a chance to clinch sole possession of the Southland Conference championship. The game will be televised on tape delay by WHNO (Charter Channel 14 in the Hammond area) and streamed 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.