Last night, the 2023 River Bell Classic took place in Hammond, America, and the game was destined to be a great one. Both teams came in with something on the line. For Nicholls, it was to keep their undefeated conference record. For SLU, it was to finish with a winning conference record. It was a hard-fought, chippy game which saw a little bit of explosive offense and some exceptional defensive plays, but in the end, Nicholls took victory by a score of 21-16, and the River Bell Trophy heads back to Thibodeaux after spending a year in Hammond.
The game started with Nicholls controlling the ball first, but after a quick drive, SLU took control. The Lions marched down the field, with Zachary Clement under center. Clement ran on a quarterback keeper for the first play of the game, and a late hit out of bounds penalty was called. Clement ran a couple more times, and then found Darius Lewis later in the drive. Lewis took a hard hit, and targeting was called on Quinton Sharkey. With a fresh set of downs, and in the redzone, the Lion offense couldn’t finish the job, and the field goal unit came onto the field. Nobody saw a fake coming, and holder Justin Dumas was able to cut outside, make a man miss, and find the endzone on perhaps the craziest and most memorable play of the Lion season.
Nicholls took over and Pat McQuaide was able to find Neno Lemay for a first down catch, and Jaylon Spears took several carries for short-to-medium gains, but nothing came to fruition on this Colonel drive. SLU three-and-outed on the following possession, and Nicholls took possession once again. McQuaide was able to find Quincy Brown for a pair of long, first down catches, and the Colonels were able to march right down to the redzone. Kunta Hester was called for a questionable pass interference penalty, and that set up Nicholls near the goalline. Then, the first quarter ended.
After 1st and goal was stuffed, McQuaide was able to score as the pile was pushed in Nicholls’ favor.
Not much of note happened on the following SLU drive. Rodeo Graham Jr. and Harlan Dixon touched the ball a couple times each, and Graham gained a first down on a 15-yard rush, but the drive ended in an Austin Dunlap punt.
Nicholls added to their score quickly on the ensuing drive. McQuaide was able to connect with David Robinson Jr. for a massive 78-yard touchdown, including a shifty run-after-the-catch sequence.
SLU clapped back with a Riley Callaghan field goal on the following possession.
Nicholls took over and McQuaide was able to find Lemay for a big gain over the middle. But then, disaster struck for the Colonels, as Spears fumbled on a hit from Tyrik Mitchell. Arlen Williams recovered, and the Lions were in a prime position to score. Clement connect first with Jaylon Domingeaux on a short screen, and then pick up some yards himself on a bootleg run. After an incomplete pass intended for Lewis in the endzone, the Lions settled for a field goal to make it a one-point game at halftime, 14-13.
After the half, the Lions received the ball, and a couple of deep shots to Bauer Sharp and Da’shun Hugley proved unsuccessful, so they punted again. Nicholls responded with a 73-yard swing pass that Spears took to the house, on a super-slippery play, and the Colonels extended their lead to 21-13.
Both teams three-and-outed before Callaghan missed a field goal. Ian Conerly-Goodly did intercept a pass, pretty easily, near the end of the third quarter. This drive ended in a field goal.
Terry Matthews had a nice catch to open the fourth quarter, but the Colonels punted again. Clement was able to find Xavier Hill and Jacob Logan for two first-down catches, and Deantre Jackson saw his first carries of the game on this drive. The field goal attempt was off the upright, and SLU walked away with no points on a longer drive once again. Nicholls went three-and-out on their next drive, following a sack by Anthony Britton Jr.
Eli Sawyer entered the ballgame for the first time all night, and was sacked immediately. Not risking giving the ball to Nicholls in the redzone, SLU punted, and Nicholls punted right back. Sawyer trotted out for his second drive, and after an incompletion and a screen pass to Dixon, the Lions were faced with a third down. Sawyer took two sacks in-a-row, and Nicholls kneeled out to end the ballgame.
Southeastern walks away from this ballgame with a 3-8 overall record, 3-4 in-conference. They finished 1-4 at home, and 2-4 on the road. Nicholls moves on to the FCS playoffs, with either a first round bye or a home game next weekend after Thanksgiving. The Colonels are also your 2023 Southland Conference champions.
Clement finished the ballgame completing 12/25 passes for 98 yards, adding 15 carries for 56 yards. Graham ran 11 times for 58 yards, and Harlan Dixon ran 4 times for 14 yards. Justin Dumas was credited with a six-yard rushing touchdown on the fake field goal. Xavier Hill caught 3 passes for 52 yards, and nobody else on the receiving staff totaled more than 17 yards.
On defense for the Lions, Conerly-Goodley and Britton Jr. tied for the team lead in tackles, with eight each. Britton also had the above-mentioned sack, and Rodney Sopsher collaborated with Kaleb Proctor for another.
We will have a second recap article for Nicholls, so I’ll keep their statistical recap short. Pat McQuaide threw for exactly 300 yards, 2 touchdowns, and an interception. Jaylon Spears led the Colonels with 14 carries and 58 yards, Neno Lemay led the team with six catches, but David Robinson Jr. totaled more yards with 91. Eli Ennis led the team with eight tackles.
2023 might be over for the Lions, and it’ll be interesting to see how the offseason plays out, with coaching changes, players transferring in and out, and how the quarterback situation works next year. Sawyer should stick around, but Clement is out of eligibility, so expect to see a new face in the rotation for 2024.
Stay tuned for a postseason recap article, coming this weekend or early next week, here on gridironfootballusa.com!
Finally, check out these awesome photos, taken by Corey Perrillioux: