Second half surge gives #8 Southeastern sixth straight win over McNeese
HAMMOND, La. – The No. 8 Southeastern Louisiana football team scored 20 straight second half points on the way to a 23-20 Southland Conference victory over McNeese Saturday night in Strawberry Stadium.
Trailing 7-3 late in the third quarter, SLU (7-1, 5-0 Southland) saw its high-powered offense kick into gear on the way to three second-half touchdown drives. Much like the first meeting earlier this month in Lake Charles, McNeese (3-5, 2-3 Southland) made a run late to cut the lead to three, but Jessie Britt recovered the Cowboys’ onside kick attempt in the final minute to secure the victory.
The win was the sixth straight for the Lions, who matched their longest win streak and best Southland Conference start since the 2013 season with Saturday’s victory.
“This was a great win for us tonight,” Southeastern head coach Frank Scelfo said. “This is the kind of effort that helps you become a championship team. We want to play great every week, but some weeks you’re not going to be at your best. Our defense and special teams were both outstanding tonight, helping us to weather some of the adversity we felt early in the game. I’m just really proud of how we came together as a team to get this win.”
The Lion defense came up with big plays to keep the Cowboys from pulling away early in the game. Donniel Ward-Magee stopped McNeese quarterback Cody Orgeron at the goal line on a fourth down, while Zy Alexander picked off a pass at the one-yard line. On special teams, Brennon Dingle forced a fumble by Mason Pierce on a punt that Anthony Spurlock recovered and set up what eventually was the game-clinching touchdown.
Alphonso Taylor led SLU with nine tackles, while Brandon Barbee and Garrett Crawford contributed eight stops each. Barbee led Southeastern with three pass breakups, while Crawford recorded a game-high 2.5 sacks. Austin Dunlap averaged 53.0 yards on four punts for Southeastern, including a career-long 66-yard punt.
The Lion offense finished with 375 total yards on the night. Cole Kelley threw for 245 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while also rushing for a score. Ed Magee was Southeastern’s busiest receiver, finishing with six catches for 69 yards. Austin Mitchell finished with three catches for 107 yards – his eighth 100-plus yard receiving performance of his SLU career – with a touchdown, as he and Damien Dawson each hauled in scoring tosses.
Orgeron finished with 20 carries for 95 yards and a touchdown, while also completing 17-of-32 passes for 195 yards, a touchdown and an interception to lead the McNeese offense. Darius Daniels led the Cowboy defense with 12 tackles and a fumble recovery, while Kordell Williams added 11 stops, an interception, a fumble recovery and two tackles for loss.
McNeese took the opening kickoff and drove 75 yards on 10 plays to take the early lead. Orgeron found Pierce for a 20-yard touchdown to stake the Cowboys to a 7-0 lead just over five minutes into the game.
Southeastern answered with a five-minute scoring drive of its own. However, the Lions had to settle for a 29-yard field goal by Mateo Rengifo that cut the lead to 7-3 with 4:29 remaining in the opening quarter.
McNeese drove all the way to the Lion one-yard line on its ensuing drive that took the game into the second quarter. However, the SLU defense held firm and forced a 21-yard field goal attempt that Christian Donnelly missed wide right to keep the lead at 7-3.
After the two teams traded punts, Williams intercepted a Kelley pass and returned it 17 yards to the SLU eight-yard line. However, the Southeastern defense put together another goal line stand with Ward-Magee ripping Orgeron down on fourth-and-goal just shy of the end zone to turn the Cowboys over on downs and keep the deficit at 7-3 heading into the half.
Southeastern fumbled on the opening drive of the second half around midfield and two plays later, the Cowboys had a first-and-goal at the one-yard line. However, Alexander picked off Orgeron at the goal line with his team-high fourth interception of the season keeping SLU within four points.
The two teams traded empty possessions before SLU finally took the lead for good. On fourth-and-goal at the McNeese one-yard line, Kelley found a wide-open Dawson to cap a 12-play, 77-yard scoring march and give Southeastern a 10-7 lead with just over a minute left in the third quarter.
Alexis Ramos and Brendon Kelley stopped Stephon Huderson on a third-and-short to force a McNeese punt on its ensuing drive. On the next play, Kelley found the speedy Mitchell for a 77-yard touchdown reception. Mitchell’s 24th career touchdown reception gave the Lions a 16-7 lead with 13:56 left in the contest after Chris Joyce blocked Rengifo’s extra-point attempt.
The two teams traded three-and-outs, then Dunlap unleashed a line drive punt that took a bounce in front of Pierce. Dingle met the Cowboy returner at the ball, forcing it to squirt free with Spurlock coming out of a scrum with the loose ball at the McNeese 21-yard line. Four plays later, Kelley bulled in from a yard out to give SLU a 23-7 lead with 8:11 left.
Touchdown runs by Deonta McMahon and Orgeron cut the lead to 23-20 with just under a minute left, but Britt scooped up the onside kick attempt to end any hope of a miracle finish for the visitors.
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