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Second half run propels Southeastern to road win over Jacksonville St.
JACKSONVILLE, Ala. – The Southeastern Louisiana University football team shutout host Jacksonville State in the second half on the way to a 31-14 victory over the Gamecocks Saturday afternoon at Burgess-Snow Field at JSU Stadium.
In its nonconference finale, SLU (4-3, 1-1 Southland) outscored JSU, 18-0, in the fourth quarter to complete the home-and-home series sweep of the Gamecocks. Jacksonville State (6-2, 2-0 ASUN/WAC), which is in the midst of a transition to FBS as a 2023 member of Conference USA, had its three-game winning streak snapped and suffered its first home loss, spoiling JSU's Homecoming in front of 18,654 fans.
The Southeastern defense had its finest performance of 2022 against a JSU offense that came in averaging 436.7 yards and 37.4 points per game. SLU limited the Gamecocks to 290 yards and forced Jacksonville State into two turnovers.
Herman Christophe led Southeastern with nine tackles, while he and Darrius Harry each had 1.5 tackles for loss to pace a SLU effort that finished with eight stops behind the line. Kunta Hester and Brandon Barbee each had interceptions for Southeastern.
With Eli Sawyer (12-for-18, 124 yards) and Cephus Johnson III (10-for-13, 76 yards, 2 TD) sharing time engineering a balanced attack, the Lions racked up 459 total yards – including 259 on the ground. Johnson III led Southeastern with 91 yards on 11 carries, while Carlos Washington Jr. rushed for his team-high ninth touchdown of the season.
Nine different Lion receivers caught passes in Saturday's win, led by Terrell Carter with four grabs. Jessie Britt and Ivan Drobocky each hauled in scoring tosses from Johnson III. Southeastern finished with 23 first downs and controlled the clock for over 41 minutes.
On special teams, freshman Riley Callaghan connected on three field goals. In what was a field position game for most of the contest until SLU pulled away late, Lion punter Austin Dunlap averaged 45.8 yards per punt for Southeastern.
Zion Webb completed 10-of-22 passes for 126 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions for the Gamecocks. Anwar Lewis led JSU with 125 yards and a score on 15 carries.
After Southeastern was forced to punt on the opening drive, Jacksonville State quickly moved into Lion territory. However, Tainano Gaulua sacked Webb, then Harry threw Webb for a loss on fourth down to turn the Gamecocks over on downs.
SLU's first scoring threat came late in the opening quarter as a 25-yard pass from Sawyer to Carter set the Lions up in the JSU red zone. However, the Gamecock defense stiffened and forced a Callaghan 43-yard field goal attempt that missed wide right.
After forcing a three-and-out, SLU embarked on a 12-play, 80-yard scoring march that took the game into the second quarter. Johnson III found Britt from six yards out to give the Lions a 7-0 lead with 11:54 remaining in the opening half.
The lead would be short-lived, however. Four plays later, Lewis broke through a tackle at the line of scrimmage and raced 53 yards down the left sideline to tie the score at 7-7 with 10:11 left in the second quarter.
After Southeastern was forced to punt, the Lions got the ball right back. Hester picked off a Webb pass to give SLU the ball at its own 46-yard line. Southeastern drove deep into Gamecock territory, but had to settle for a 31-yard Callaghan field goal and a 10-7 lead with just under two minutes left in the half.
JSU answered with another big play. Webb found a wide-open Ahmad Edwards for a 64-yard touchdown and a 14-10 Gamecock lead with just over a minute remaining in the second quarter.
It looked as if Jacksonville State was going to have a chance to add to its lead when it forced SLU to punt in the final minute. The Lions faked the punt, however, and Bauer Sharp raced 55 yards to the Gamecock 18-yard line. Callaghan nailed a 23-yard field goal to cut the halftime deficit to 14-13.
After a third quarter that saw the teams exchange punts throughout, Southeastern took the lead on the first play of the fourth quarter. Drobocky hauled in a five-yard pass from Johnson III to put SLU on top. The Lions went for two and were successful, as Gage Larvadain found Johnson III on a double reverse pass to put Southeastern ahead, 21-14, with 14:55 remaining in the contest.
After forcing a Jacksonville State punt, Southeastern milked 8:36 off the clock on a 13-play, 51-yard scoring drive. Callaghan connected from 31 yards out to put the Lions up, 24-14, with 5:05 left.
Any chance of a JSU comeback was squashed when Barbee intercepted Webb with just under three minutes left. SLU closed out the victory when Washington Jr. capped the Lions' final scoring drive with a four-yard touchdown run in the final minute.
Saturday's game was the first of three straight away from home for the Lions. Southeastern will continue its road swing with a 7 p.m. contest next Saturday at McNeese. The Lions-Cowboys matchup will be televised on ESPN+ and can be heard on the Southeastern Sports Radio Network (Kajun 107.1 FM, The Highway 104.7 FM, The Boss 103.7 FM/1400 AM).
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