Southeastern knocks off #4 Incarnate Word on Eli Sawyer game winning touchdown throw, 41-35
HAMMOND, La. – CJ Turner ran down a 59-yard touchdown pass from Eli Sawyer on the game's final play to give the Southeastern Louisiana University football team a thrilling 41-35 walkoff win over No. 4/7 UIW in the Southland Conference opener for both teams Saturday evening in Strawberry Stadium.
The win for the Lions (2-2, 1-0 SLC) marked the highest-ranked opponent SLU has defeated since a 34-21 win over No. 4 Sam Houston on Nov. 16, 2013. UIW fell for the first time in 2022, dropping to 3-1 overall and 0-1 in league action.
UIW tied the game on a four-yard touchdown pass from Lindsey Scott Jr. to Marquez Perez with 21 seconds remaining. After the tying score, the first overtime game in Strawberry Stadium since a 31-24 SLU win over Northwestern State on Oct. 14, 2006.
Southeastern had other plans. On the first play of the drive, Carlos Washington Jr. busted loose for 22 yards down to the Lion 41-yard line. Washington, who finished with a game-high 120 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries, gave SLU a chance to be aggressive.
A short Sawyer incompletion set up the final play with five seconds remaining. Turner got behind his defender and caught a long pass down the right sideline from Sawyer and ran in for the game-winning score. It was the first walk-off touchdown win for SLU since an 82-yard touchdown pass from Justin Alo to Brandon Acker in a 31-24 victory over McNeese on Oct. 8, 2016.
In addition to putting SLU in the driver's seat to start Southland Conference play, it gave Southeastern its first win in five tries over the Cardinals.
"We started that drive with the run knowing that if Carlos was able to bust one we had two timeouts to play with," Southeastern head coach Frank Scelfo said. "Once we had one play left, we knew we were going to take a shot. Eli and CJ made a great play."
Sawyer, who came in in the first quarter after starting quarterback Cephus Johnson III suffered an injury, finished 15-for-24 for 256 yards and two touchdowns in by far his most game action as a Lion.
"We have a next man up mentality," Scelfo said. "Eli is like everyone else on our team in that he prepares himself to be successful. We had some other guys step up. Brockhim Wicks made his first start at right tackle and made the most of his opportunity."
While Sawyer's play marked the first major notch in his belt, Turner's catch was just the latest achievement for one of the most accomplished players in school history. The LaPlace, Louisiana native finished with five catches for 139 yards and two touchdowns after the game-winner.
The 100-yard receiving game was the 10th of his career, tying the school record set by teammate Austin Mitchell. His two scoring receptions give him 22 in his career, which tied him with Southeastern Athletics Hall of Famer Felton Huggins for third in school history. Scelfo was pleased to see Turner thrive after missing the past two narrow shootout losses at UIW in 2020 and 2021 due to injury.
"CJ was looking forward to the opportunity to play UIW after missing the last two games against those guys," Scelfo commented. "He came up with a lot of big plays for us tonight throughout the game.
"We want our team to believe in themselves as much as our coaching staff believes in them," Scelfo concluded. "We don't need them to be spectacular; we just need them to do their job. If we do that, we're going to have a very successful season. The breakdowns we had tonight were due to people trying to do too much. But this group is really starting to buy in to what we're doing."
A 23-yard punt return by Darius Lewis set the Lions up in Cardinal territory and led to SLU's first score. Johnson found Ivan Drobocky from nine yards out to give Southeastern a 7-0 lead with 7:33 left in the opening quarter.
After the team's traded empty possessions, UIW evened it up in the final minute of the quarter. Scott scampered in from six yards out to knot the score at 7-7 with 17 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
A 43-yard kickoff return by Gage Larvadain set SLU up near midfield. Nine plays later, Washington Jr. bulled in from two yards out to put the Lions back up, 14-7, with 11:17 remaining in the first half.
UIW answered on the next possession. Marcus Cooper hauled in a 60-yard screen pass to advance the ball to the red zone. Three plays later, he capped the drive with a four-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 14-14 with just over nine minutes remaining.
SLU answered with a six-play, 60-yard drive to retake the lead. Washington Jr. slid around right end from five yards out to put the Lions ahead, 21-14, with 6:53 left.
The Cardinals tied it up heading into the break. CJ Hardy hauled in an 18-yard touchdown pass from Scott to even the score after a back-and-forth first half.
Southeastern ate up over six minutes on the opening drive of the third quarter. The Lions converted two lengthy third downs in a scoring drive that was capped by a 29-yard field goal by Riley Callaghan that put SLU up, 24-21, with 8:49 remaining in the third quarter.
UIW took its first lead on the ensuing drive. Darion Chafin pulled in a five-yard touchdown pass from Scott to cap a 14-play, 79-yard scoring march and put the Cardinals up, 28-24, with 2:45 left in the third quarter.
After a 23-yard Callaghan field goal cut the lead to 28-27 early in the fourth quarter, the Lion defense came up with a big stop to help Southeastern retake the lead.
Facing a fourth-and-five from their own 46-yard line, the nation's highest-scoring offense tried to extend the drive. Anthony Britton Jr. harassed Scott into an errant throw to give the Southeastern offense a drive starting in Cardinal territory.
Seven plays later, Sawyer found Turner from 15 yards out for the go-ahead touchdown. On the ensuing two-point conversion, Jessie Britt made a tough catch just inside the right pylon to give SLU a 35-28 cushion with 6:14 remaining.
Scott found Brandon Porter on a 54-yard pass on the next UIW drive to move into the SLU red zone. On the next play, Markell Linzer picked off Scott in the end zone to end the Cardinal threat.
The UIW defense stiffened and forced a Southeastern punt on the next drive and the Cardinals took over at their 45-yard line with 3:25 left. The veteran Scott showed his maturity on the final UIW drive, going 5-for-5 on a nine-play march that culminated with his scoring toss to Perez that tied the score and set up Sawyer and Turner's heroics.
Donte' Daniels led the Southeastern defense with 11 tackles, as he and Tyrik Mitchell each were credited with tackles for loss. Scott threw for 333 yards, three touchdowns and one interception on 27-for-38 passing. Former Lion Cooper led UIW with 61 yards rushing and 94 yards receiving.
The Lions will continue their home stand next Saturday at 6 p.m., hosting Murray State in nonconference action at Strawberry Stadium. The game 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).
Next Saturday's contest versus the Racers will also be the Hall of Fame Game. Kevin Fogg (baseball), Harlan Miller (football) and Natalie Santana (soccer) will be honored at halftime of the football game after a private induction ceremony is held earlier in the day.
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