HAMMOND, La. – Southeastern Louisiana racked up 539 yards of offense and forced three opportune turnovers to open Southland Conference play with a 34-24 victory over Northwestern State Saturday night at Strawberry Stadium.
The Lions (1-2, 1-0 Southland) improved to 5-0 in league openers under head coach Ron Roberts in a wild home debut that featured just under 1,000 yards of total offense combined between the two teams. Northwestern State (0-4, 0-3 Southland) gave Southeastern all it wanted on Saturday, but the Demons remained winless in 2016 and SLU won for the fifth straight time against its long-time conference and in-state rivals.
Saturday’s win snapped a six-game losing streak for the Lions dating back to last season. SLU now has an on-field record of 13-1 in home openers since the program returned in 2003.
“Tonight was big for us,” Southeastern Louisiana head coach Ron Roberts said. “We needed this win to end our skid dating back to last year and get some confidence. We’re not where we want or need to be in our performance, but you can’t complain about a conference win against an in-state opponent. We made some big plays tonight when we needed them and I’m really happy that our guys were able to do the things necessary to get a win.”
After Northwestern State took an early lead on the game’s opening drive, Southeastern scored three unanswered touchdowns to take a commanding 21-6 halftime lead. However, the Demons scored the first 15 points of the second half to tie the score, 21-21, late in the third quarter.
The Lions responded with a touchdown in the final minute of the third quarter to take a 28-21 lead. NSU cut the lead to four with a field goal early in the fourth quarter, but would get no closer. A field goal by sophomore Jonathan Tatum pushed the lead back to seven midway through the final period. Lion junior Max Lyons pounced on a fumble forced by junior Javon Tillman to give Southeastern the ball deep in Demon territory and Tatum hit another field goal to ice the game in the final minutes.
In just his second career start, SLU senior quarterback Justin Alo threw for three touchdowns and 251 yards on 13-of-20 passing. For the second straight game, Alo’s top targets were senior Brandon Acker (four catches, 90 yards, 2 TD) and junior Juwan Dickey (4-96-1 TD).
Southeastern also had its most successful rushing performance of the young season on Saturday. Senior Rasheed Harrell led the Lions with 124 yards on 16 carries – marking the first 100-yard rushing performance by the Miami, Florida native since 2013. Alo added to the ground attack with 10 carries for 91 yards, while sophomore Julius Maracalin scored his first rushing touchdown of the season.
The Lion defense yielded 457 total yards, but came up with big plays in key situations. Tillman had his first interception of his Lion career to go with the forced fumble, while junior Ryan Sigers had a tremendous strip and recovery to end a Northwestern State scoring threat. Junior Lee Spight led SLU with nine tackles, while Tillman was credited with eight stops.
NSU quarterback Brooks Haack threw for a pair of touchdowns to lead the Demons, while Chris Jones rushed for a game-high 176 yards on 22 carries for Northwestern State.
The Demons opened the game with an eight-play, 75-yard scoring march to take an early lead. Ronald Green capped the drive with a 14-yard run to put Northwestern State on top. SLU junior Torrance Mosley blocked Eric Piccione’s field goal attempt to keep the lead at 6-0.
The Lions answered quickly with a seven-play, 67-yard touchdown drive of their own. Southeastern took the lead when Dickey hauled in a short pass from Alo, spun away from a Demon defender and scored from 11 yards out – his second touchdown in as many games as a Lion – to give SLU a 7-6 lead with 8:40 left in the opening quarter.
After forcing a NSU punt, Southeastern found the end zone again on its second drive of the game. Acker made a diving 42-yard catch just short of the goal line to set up SLU with first-and-goal. One play later, Maracalin bulled in from a yard out to give Southeastern a 14-6 lead with 3:44 left in the opening quarter.
Northwestern State was poised to cut into the lead on its ensuing drive, as backup quarterback Joel Blumenthal marched the Demons into the red zone. Facing a third-and-10, Blumenthal was pressured out of the pocket by Lyons and threw an ill-advised pass right into the hands of Tillman to end the NSU threat.
Southeastern marched into the NSU red zone on the next drive, but this time it was the Lions’ turn to come up empty. Facing a fourth-and-one at the Demon 16-yard line, Lion senior Kaelyn Henderson was stopped for no gain by JeMarcus Marshall and Nick Pierotti to give the Demons the ball back.
After Northwestern State moved into Southeastern territory, the Demons were faced with a fourth-and-short opportunity of their own. On the ensuing play, Jones was thrown for a two-yard loss by Sigers and Spight to give the Lions the ball back.
After a Southeastern three-and-out, Northwestern State was again on the move. Jones broke free for a 52-yard run, but a hustling Sigers stripped him from behind at the SLU 25-yard line. The ball rolled all the way to the Lion 11, but Sigers fought off several Demons to secure the fumble recovery.
Southeastern used the momentum of Sigers’ huge play to close out the opening half on a high note. Alo found Dickey on a 34-yard strike to quickly move into Demon territory, then Acker hauled in a 13-yard pass in the back left corner of the end zone to give SLU a 21-6 halftime lead.
The two teams traded empty possessions to open the second half before Northwestern State cut into the lead. Hacck found Bobby Chan-Chan from 34 yards out to slice the Lion advantage to 21-13 with 8:10 left in the third quarter.
Southeastern had a promising drive going to answer, but NSU’s Ryan Reed stripped Lion senior Juwaan Rogers just past midfield and the Demons’ Chrishard Buhl recovered the loose ball at the NSU 47-yard line. Five plays later, Tuff McClain made a 20-yard touchdown catch, then Haack found a wide open Lucas Morgan for the game-tying two-point conversion.
SLU finally got on the board in the second half on the ensuing possession. After a personal foul moved the Lions deep into Demon territory, Alo found Acker for his second touchdown of the game – a 27-yard score that gave the Lions a 28-21 advantage heading into the final period.
The pesky Demons wouldn’t go away quietly, as Northwestern State pulled within 28-24 on a Piccione 45-yard field goal with 13:28 remaining.
That would be as close as the Demons would get. A 29-yard catch-and-run by freshman Javon Conner keyed a methodical 10-play scoring drive that took nearly five minutes off the clock and culminated in a Tatum 30-yard field goal and a 31-24 lead with 8:54 left.
The two teams traded punts until the Lions made the play that sealed the victory. After Northwestern State took over with just over four minutes left, Jones bolted ahead for 10 yards on the drive’s opening play. Tillman was able to punch the ball loose and Lyons was able to fall on it to give Southeastern the ball at the NSU 29-yard line. Four plays later, Tatum snuck a 40-yard field goal over the crossbar to give the Lions a 34-24 lead with 2:13 remaining.
Southeastern forced Haack into four straight incompletions on the Demons’ final drive, taking over deep in NSU territory and running the clock out to complete its first win of the season.
Southeastern will be back in action next Saturday traveling to Lamar for a 7 p.m. contest in Beaumont, Texas. The game will be broadcast on ESPN3 and will also air on the Southeastern Sports Radio Network.
NSU – 6 0 15 3 – 24 (0-4, 0-3 SLC)
SLU – 14 7 7 6 – 34 (1-2, 1-0 SLC)
NSU – Green 14 run (Piccione kick blocked), 12:00
SLU – Dickey 11 pass from Alo (Tatum kick), 8:40
SLU – Maracalin 1 run (Tatum kick), 3:44
SLU – Acker 13 pass from Alo (Tatum kick), 0:12
NSU – Chan-Chan 34 pass from Haack (Piccione kick), 8:10
NSU – McClain 20 pass from Haack (Morgan pass from Haack), 2:32
SLU – Acker 27 pass from Alo (Tatum kick), 0:12
NSU – Piccione 45 FG, 13:28
SLU – Tatum 30 FG, 8:54
SLU – Tatum 40 FG, 2:13
FIRST DOWNS 22 21
RUSHES-YARDS (NET) 44-269 46-288
PASSING YDS (NET) 188 251
Passes Att-Comp-Int 29-16-1 20-13-0
TOTAL OFFENSE PLAYS-YARDS. 73-457 66-539
Fumble Returns-Yards 0-0 0-0
Kickoff Returns-Yards 7-124 5-94
Punt Returns-Yards 1-12 0-0
Interception Returns-Yards 0-0 1-5
Punts (Number-Avg) 3-48.0 3-49.0
Fumbles-Lost 2-2 1-1
Penalties-Yards 2-20 3-15
Possession Time. 29:40 30:20
Third-Down Conversions 5-of-13 2-of-10
Fourth-Down Conversions 1-of-3 0-of-1
Red Zone Scores-Chances 2-3 4-6
RUSHING: NSU – Jones 22-176, Green 15-63, Haack 3-12, Ryan 1-11, Blumenthal 3-7. Totals 44-269. SLU – Harrell 16-124, Alo 10-91, Henderson 6-32, Bethea 6-24, Durall 3-7, Rogers 1-5, Maracalin 3-5, Conner 1-0. Totals 46-288.
PASSING: NSU – Haack 13-25-0-149-2, Blumenthal 3-4-1-39-0. Totals 16-29-1-188-2. SLU – Alo 13-20-0-251-3. Totals 13-20-0-251-3.
RECEIVING: NSU – McClain 4-46, Ryan 4-28, Chan-Chan – 3-56, Lazare 2-30, Mafi 2-27, Green 1-1. Totals 16-188. SLU – Dickey 4-96, Acker 4-90, Rogers 2-11, Conner 1-29, Harrell 1-19, Maracalin 1-6. Totals 13-251.
Attendance – 6,406.