Monday, December 10, 2018

Dominant defensive effort propels SLU to 23-6 Senior Day win

Posted: Saturday, November 3, 2018 | Views: 631

Dominant defensive effort propels SLU to 23-6 Senior Day win
HAMMOND – Southeastern Louisiana held Southland Conference-leading McNeese to 187 total yards on the way to a 23-6 Senior Day victory over the No. 11/12 Cowboys on Saturday at Strawberry Stadium.

SLU (4-6, 4-4 Southland) was dominant defensively, recording five sacks and limiting the visiting Cowboys (6-3, 5-2 Southland) to 10 first downs. The win is the fourth straight in Hammond for the Lions over in-state Southland Conference rival McNeese and the fifth win for SLU over the Cowboys in the last seven meetings.

In addition to the smothering defensive performance, the Lion offense managed 322 total yards against the league’s top-ranked defense. A balanced attack saw SLU record 162 yards passing and 160 yards rushing.

“Today was an illustration of how good of a football team we can be when we play a full 60 minutes and limit mental mistakes,” Southeastern head football coach Frank Scelfo said. “We always stress the importance of controlling the line of scrimmage. We won up front on both sides of the ball against a very good team and if we can do that, we’re going to win a lot of games.

“I don’t think our defense could’ve played much better in any area,” Scelfo continued. “Offensively, our offensive line was extremely physical up front against the best defensive team in the league.”

Southeastern was able to send out the 22 members of its 2018 senior class out on a high note, as SLU closed out its home schedule with its most complete effort of the season. The Lion senior class of defensive back Zeke Walker, defensive back Shamar Busby, wide receiver Jariah Tolbert, wide receiver Nih-Jer Jackson, quarterback Joey Verhaegh, wide receiver Jake Ingraffia, defensive back Aaron Craig, defensive back Brayleon Thorns, running back Julius Maracalin, running back Darren Johnson, defensive back Xavier Chatman, punter Jim Speights, kicker Jonathan Tatum, linebacker Tamarcus Russell, linebacker Ja’Hmal Macklin, linebacker Sean Clavelle, offensive lineman Lorenz Jones, long snapper Anthony Freeman, offensive lineman Kyle Strickland, wide receiver Ross Foreman, defensive lineman Imani Mitchell and defensive lineman Jon Miller were honored prior to the game.

“We’re glad to send this group of seniors out with a victory today,” Scelfo said. “This group embraced me when I came in and I’ll always be thankful for them allowing me to be their coach.”

The 180 yards allowed by Southeastern marked the fewest allowed in a contest by the Lions since it yielded just 80 yards in a 76-7 victory over Houston Baptist on Nov. 8, 2014.

Isaac Adeyemi-Berglund paced SLU with eight tackles, four tackles for loss and two sacks. Will Douglas also recorded two sacks for Southeastern, while Tre’ Spann was also credited with a sack. Thorns hauled in an interception, while Clavelle and Spann were both credited with forced fumbles. Russell pitched in with 2.5 tackles for loss, as he and Ferlando Jordan each posted seven tackles.

Playing in his final home game of a prolific career, Maracalin led the SLU offense with a season-high 88 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries. Chason Virgil threw for 162 yards and a touchdown on 14-of-28 passing, as Juwan Petit-Frere was his top target, finishing with seven catches for 85 yards and a score.

The Lion defense forced McNeese to play three different quarterbacks with Cody Orgeron and James Tabary combining for 166 yards passing and an interception on 21-of-44 passing. The Cowboys only managed 21 yards rushing on 28 carries with 24 coming on an Orgeron scramble in the final minutes.

The Southeastern win spoiled a tremendous individual defensive effort by McNeese linebacker B.J. Blunt. The Cowboy star finished with 17 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and a blocked punt.

After forcing a three-and-out on McNeese’s first drive, the Southeastern defense had to defend a short field after a muffed punt by Devonte Williams. However, facing a fourth-and-goal at the two-yard line, Thorns grabbed a deflected Orgeron pass to keep McNeese off the board.

The defenses dominated into the second quarter, as the next six drives would all result in punts. Southeastern started its first drive of the second period on the McNeese 44-yard line after a 24-yard punt return by Austin Mitchell. Eight plays later, Petit-Frere hauled in a six-yard scoring toss from Virgil to put SLU ahead, 7-0, with 10:05 left in the half.

Southeastern tried an onside kick on the ensuing kickoff, but it was recovered by Trevor Begue and the Lion defense again had to defend a short field. SLU again answered, holding the Cowboys to a 22-yard field goal by Gunner Raborn that cut the lead to 7-3 with 7:18 remaining.

A great 29-yard snag by Mitchell highlighted a nine-play scoring drive for the Lions on their next drive. Tatum put the lead back to a touchdown with a 40-yard field goal with 3:59 left in the half.

The two teams traded punts, but McNeese was able to cut into the Southeastern advantage with a 37-yard Raborn field goal on the final play of the first half.

Southeastern’s defense had to answer another tough situation early in the third quarter, when McNeese recovered a Mitchell fumble on a punt at the Lion 18-yard line. Tabary connected with LaWayne Ross on an 18-yard touchdown on the first play of the drive, but it was called back on an illegal block. Later in the drive, Douglas sacked Tabary to take the Cowboys out of field goal range.

Southeastern’s next drive took over five minutes off the clock, although Virgil was ultimately stopped on fourth-and-short to keep the Lion lead at 10-6. A sack by Spann ended the next Cowboy drive and SLU took over at midfield after the punt.

Three plays later, Maracalin busted though the line on third-and-short and raced untouched 41 yards for a touchdown and a 17-6 Lion lead with just over a minute left in the third quarter. The touchdown was the 20th in the Plaquemine native’s career, moving him into a tie with former Lion Zeke Jones for sixth on the school’s career list.

Another Douglas sacked forced a McNeese three-and-out as the game moved into the fourth quarter. The Lions took nearly six minutes off the clock on a methodical 12-play, 73-yard drive that Tatum capped with a 25-yard field goal to put SLU up, 20-6, with 8:53 left.

After Southeastern forced another three-and-out, Jacq’co Price blocked the Cowboy punt to give SLU the ball in the red zone. Six plays later, Tatum added to the Lion advantage with a 30-yard field goal that put the Lions on top, 23-6, with 5:29 remaining.

McNeese tried to lessen the final margin in the final minutes, but Raborn pushed a 31-yard field goal wide right with under two minutes left, as Southeastern secured its first win over a ranked team this season. The Lions’ last win over a ranked win was a 21-17 victory over then-No. 17 Nicholls in the 2017 regular season finale.

Southeastern will have a bye next weekend before closing out the 2018 season at Nicholls on Thursday, Nov. 15 in Thibodaux. Kickoff for the 2018 River Bell Classic is set for 6 p.m.

Fans can hear the Nov. 15 game on the Southeastern Sports Radio Network (KSLU-FM (90.9), Kajun 107.1 FM, The Highway 104.7 FM and WFPR 1400 AM). Fans can also listen live at www.LionSports.net/listenlive and via the Radio FX, TuneIn Radio and Lions Gameday Experience apps. Television details will be released by the Southland Conference on Monday.