January 22, 2022
"Changing Lives, Improving Communities"

No. 23 Nicholls Edges No. 21/22 SLU, 28-27, for Southland Championship

HAMMOND, La. – The River Bell Classic went down to the final drive, as Sully Laiche recovered a Southeastern Louisiana fumble at the Nicholls one-yard line to preserve a 28-27 victory for the No. 23 Colonels over the No. 21/22 Lions in front of 10,071 fans Thursday night at Strawberry Stadium.

With the victory, Nicholls (8-4, 7-2 Southland) receives the league’s automatic bid in the NCAA FCS playoffs and at least a share of the league title. Both Southeastern (7-4, 6-3 Southland) will find out their postseason fates on Sunday at 11:30 a.m., when the 24-team NCAA FCS Playoffs field will be announced live on ESPNU.

The second-largest crowd in the history of Strawberry Stadium witnessed the Lions work their way into position for the game-winning drive on the final possession. Facing a second-and-goal from the Colonels two-yard line, Cole Kelley bulled forward and had the ball punched out by Kevin Moore just short of the goal line, as he tried to extend the ball forward. Laiche pounced on the loose ball and Nicholls was able to run the clock out to clinch the narrow victory.

Nicholls outgained Southeastern, 468-460, in the tight contest, as both quarterbacks – Nicholls’ Chase Fourcade (19-for-27, 288 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT) and SLU’s Chason Virgil (25-for-45, 321 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) – had productive performances engineering their respective offensive attacks.

Devonte Williams was the most productive Lion, scoring touchdowns rushing, receiving and on a punt return. Williams finished with 201 all-purpose yards, as he rushed for 75 yards on 16 carries and caught eight passes for 63 yards. Austin Mitchell also grabbed eight balls for 99 yards and a score for SLU.

On defense, Tre’ Spann led SLU with seven tackles, while Alexis Ramos and Feletoa Ailua each had a sack. Dominic Lamm had his first career interception, while David Fields forced a Nicholls fumble that Donniel Ward-Magee recovered.

Fourcade’s top target was Dai’Jean Dixon, who grabbed nine passes for 190 yards and three touchdowns, including the eventual game-winner with 1:30 remaining. Julien Gums led a potent Nicholls rushing attack with 18 carries for 133 yards and a touchdown.

First Quarter

The two teams traded punts to open the game before SLU took the early lead. A 48-yard catch by Mitchell highlighted a 10-play, 81-yard scoring drive. On third-and-goal, Kelley found a wide open Williams from two yards out to give Southeastern a 7-0 lead with 4:45 remaining in the opening quarter.

After both teams had to punt after short drives, Williams broke loose for a winding 61-yard punt return touchdown. The Lions’ first punt return for a touchdown since Max Lyons housed one in the 2017 season opener at UL Lafayette sent SLU into the second quarter with a 14-0 lead.

Second Quarter

Nicholls answered on its first possession of the second quarter. Dixon took a quick slant from Fourcade, shook a tackle and took it in from 48 yards out to cap a six-play, 88-yard scoring drive and cut the SLU lead to 14-7 with 11:43 to go in the half.

After Southeastern was forced to punt, Nicholls again found the end zone. A 47-yard Gums run was the key play in a drive that saw Fourcade find Dixon from two yards out and tied the score at 14-14.

SLU moved deep into Colonel territory on its ensuing possession. However, on fourth-and-two from the Nicholls 12-yard line, Glen Thurmond stopped Kelley a yard short and the game remained deadlocked heading into the second half.

Third Quarter

The teams again traded punts to start the third quarter, before Nicholls posted the second half’s first scoring threat. Fourcade found Dixon on a short pass, but Fields knocked the ball loose with a big hit and Ward-Magee fell on the loose ball at the Colonel nine-yard line.

Southeastern quickly moved into Colonel territory, as Javon Conner ran down a 47-yard bomb from Virgil. However, on third-and 10 from the Nicholls 28-yard line, Gio LaFrance stepped in front of a Virgil pass for an interception that quelled SLU’s scoring threat.

Nicholls took advantage of the miscue and took its first lead of the contest. Gums walked in from five yards out to give the Colonels a 21-14 advantage heading into the fourth quarter after a nine-play, 66-yard scoring march.

Fourth Quarter

Southeastern evened the ledger on the opening drive of the final quarter. Lorenzo Nunez hauled in a 37-yard pass from Virgil to set up a Williams’ four-yard scoring scamper that knotted the score at 21-21 with 11:34 remaining.

Nicholls drove into Southeastern territory on the next drive. However, on fourth-and-three from the Lion 36-yard line, Dion Ray was unable to haul in a Fourcade throw and the Colonels turned the ball over on downs.

Southeastern took the ball into Colonel territory on the ensuing possession. However, four straight incompletions from the Nicholls 31-yard line gave the ball back to the Colonels.

On the next possession, Lamm stepped in front of a Fourcade pass and returned it all the way back to the Nicholls 29-yard line. Three plays later, Virgil found Mitchell from 17 yards out to give Southeastern the lead. However, an errant snap forced Bryce Broussard to miss the extra point and the Lions led, 27-21, with 2:21 remaining.

However, Nicholls would not go away. Dixon won a battle for a 57-yard touchdown pass from Fourcade and Gavin Lasseigne’s extra point put Nicholls up, 28-27, with 1:30 remaining.

Nicholls almost ensured Southeastern never got the ball back, as Alec Bland rifled a short kickoff off of one of the Lion up backs, but fortunately Taron Jones was able to fall on the loose ball for SLU at its 44-yard line. A pair of 15-yard Nicholls penalties set SLU up with a goal-to-go situation in the final minute, before Laiche’s fumble recovery gave the Colonels the improbable win.

NICH – 0 14 7 7 – 28 (8-4, 7-2 SLC)

SLU – 14 0 0 13 – 27 (7-4, 6-3 SLC)

Scoring Summary

1st Quarter

SLU – D. Williams 2 pass from Kelley (Broussard kick), 4:45

SLU – D. Williams 61 punt return (Broussard kick), 0:00

2nd Quarter

NICH – Dixon 48 pass from Fourcade (Lasseigne kick), 11:43

NICH – Dixon 2 pass from Fourcade (Lasseigne kick), 5:34

3rd Quarter

NICH – Gums 5 run (Lasseigne kick), 0:20

4th Quarter

SLU – D. Williams 4 run (Broussard kick), 11:34

SLU – Mitchell 17 pass from Virgil (Broussard kick failed), 2:21

NICH – Dixon 57 pass from Fourcade (Lasseigne kick), 1:30

                                                                            NICH     SLU

FIRST DOWNS                                                 17           26
RUSHES-YARDS (NET)                                  40-180    33-113                                                                                                                                   

PASSING YDS (NET)                                       288         347

Passes Att-Comp-Int                                          27-19-1   52-28-1                        

TOTAL OFFENSE PLAYS-YARDS                67-468    85-460                                                                     

Fumble Returns-Yards                                        0-0          0-0                                                         

Kickoff Returns-Yards                                       3-52        3-46                                                            

Punt Returns-Yards                                             2-13        4-75       

Interception Returns-Yards                                 1-0          1-19                          

Punts (Number-Avg)                                           5-48.6     5-39.2                                   

Fumbles-Lost                                                      2-1          1-1                                                                                           

Penalties-Yards                                                   9-79        5-40

Possession Time.                                                 31:15      28:45       

Third-Down Conversions                                    4-of-13   4-of-16                                                                                                                  

Fourth-Down Conversions                                  0-of-2     4-of-6                                                                                  

Red Zone Scores-Chances                                  2-2          3-5                                                                          

RUSHING: NICH – Gums 18-133, Taylor 9-44, Bussey 3-10, Team 1-(-2), Fourcade 9-(-5). Totals 40-180. SLU – D. Williams 16-75, C. Kelley 8-19, T. Jones 3-16, Mitchell 2-5, Virgil 4-(-2). Totals 33-113.         

PASSING: NICH – Fourcade 19-27-1-288-3. Totals 19-27-1-288-3. SLU – Virgil 25-45-1-321-1, C. Kelley 3-6-0-26-1, Nunez 0-1-0-0-0. Totals 28-52-1-347-2.     

RECEIVING: NICH – Dixon 9-190, Ray 4-73, Franklin 3-24, Smith 1-1, Gums 1-0, Taylor 1-0. Totals 19-288. SLU – Mitchell 8-99, D. Williams 8-63, Turner 5-62, Schwebel 3-32, Conner 2-51, Nunez 1-37, DeBlaiso 1-3. Totals 28-347.        

A – 10,071.


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