NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A back-and-forth affair that featured over 1,200 yards of total offense went the way of the home team, as No. 17 Sam Houston outlasted Southeastern Louisiana, 43-38, in the Southland Conference and spring 2021 season opener for both teams.
Playing for the first time in 447 days, the Lions (0-1, 0-1 Southland) racked up 536 yards of total offense, but it was not enough against a Sam Houston (1-0, 1-0 Southland) attack that racked up 672 yards of total offense.
In his first career start, Cole Kelley threw for a career-high 462 yards – the fourth-highest total in school history – on 36-for-53 passing and four touchdowns.
CJ Turner (11 catches, 150 yards, two touchdowns) and Austin Mitchell (10 catches, 142 yards) were the top targets for the Lions.
Justin Douglas and Herman Christophe led the SLU defense with eight tackles apiece.
Sam Houston quarterback Eric Schmid threw for 428 yards and two scores on 25-for-40 passing. Chandler Harvin led the Bearkats with seven catches for 118 yards, while Jequez Ezzard (3-97) and Ife Adeye (3-87) each caught scoring tosses. Ramon Jefferson led the SHSU ground attack with 139 yards and a score on 12 carries.
On the opening play from scrimmage, Schmid broke loose for a 50-yard run, but Zy Alexander stripped him from behind and Donniel Ward-Magee pounced on the loose ball at the Lion 20-yard line.
After a SLU three-and-out, the Bearkats struck pay dirt first, as Jefferson busted through the line and scored untouched from 59 yards out to give SHSU a 7-0 lead with 9:47 left.
The Lions answered with a quick scoring drive of its own. A 63-yard catch and run by Mitchell and a fourth-and-two conversion by Kelley highlighted an eight-play, 74-yard scoring march. Mitchell made a juggling one-yard scoring catch to knot the score at 7-7 with 6:08 remaining in the opening quarter.
SHSU retook the lead on the next possession. A nine-play, 54-yard drive was capped by a 39-yard Seth Morgan field goal that resulted in a 10-7 Bearkat lead with 3:01 remaining in the first quarter. The Lions came right back with a 10-play, 72-yard drive that bled into the second quarter.
On the second play of the period, Taron Jones scampered in from four yards out to give SLU a 14-10 lead with 14:31 remaining in the opening half. The Southeastern lead would not last long, as a 52-yard catch by Ezzard set up the Bearkats in the red zone.
Three plays later, Noah Smith scored from four yards out to put Sam Houston back on top, 17-14, with 12:21 left in the first half. The Lions answered right back with a methodical 16-yard, 56-yard drive that took just over six minutes off the clock. The drive stalled inside the Bearkat 20-yard line, but Mateo Rengifo knotted the score at 17-17 with a 36-yard field goal with 6:16 remaining in the half.
The teams traded punts to start the third quarter, but Mitchell was stripped by Zyon McCollum and the loose ball was pounced on by Quan Ardoin at the SLU 12-yard line. Two plays later, Matthew Wright stripped Smith and Darrius Harry fell on the loose ball to seemingly end the Bearkat threat.
However, the play was overruled on review and Ife Adeyi scored on a sweep from six yards out to give the Bearkats a 27-17 lead with 12:43 remaining in the third quarter. The two teams traded punts, then a holding penalty extended the SLU drive. After a long replay discussion, Mitchell busted loose on a 24-yard reverse, then Damien Dawson hauled in a 50-yard pass from Kelly on a double reverse flea-flicker.
Two plays later, Kelley found Tim Wilson Jr. for a four-yard touchdown to pull the Lions within, 27-24, with 5:01 in the third quarter.
SHSU came right back, however, as Adeyi ran under a deep ball from Schmid for a 78-yard touchdown to put the Bearkats up, 34-24, with 4:15 left in the third quarter.
However, SLU answered to close out the third quarter. Kelley found Turner from 11 yards out to cap an eight-play, 75-yard drive and trim the Bearkat advantage to 34-31 heading into the final period. Sam Houston answered on the ensuing drive, as Schmid connected with Ezzard for a 30-yard touchdown and a 40-31 lead with 14:05 left in the contest. The two teams traded punts before Southeastern moved closer. Kelley connected with Turner from 10 yards out to cut the Bearkat advantage to 40-58 with 8:21 left on the clock.
SHSU drove into Lion territory on their ensuing possession, but the Lion defense stiffened to hold the Bearkats to a 24-yard Morgan field goal to keep the deficit at 43-38 with 5:07 left. SLU drove deep into SHSU territory on the next drive, but Marcus Cooper was stopped short on a short pass on fourth-and-two by Tristin McCollum to give the Bearkats the ball back at their 21-yard line with 2:21 remaining.
The Lions had their full complement of timeouts, but couldn’t come up with a stop as the Bearkats ran out the clock to secure the victory.
Up next, The Lions host McNeese at 6 p.m. on March 6 at Strawberry Stadium to open their home slate.
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