Southeastern wins shootout with Nicholls to end five game road trip
THIBODAUX, La. – No. 14 Southeastern Louisiana University outlasted No. 25 Nicholls in a 58-48 Southland Conference shootout Saturday afternoon at John L. Guidry Stadium.
Playing their fifth straight game away from home to start the season, the Lions (4-1, 2-0 Southland) finished with 573 total yards and 32 first downs on the way to their third straight victory. Nicholls fell to 2-3 overall and 1-1 in Southland play with its second straight loss to Southeastern in Thibodaux. The 106 points scored marked the third-highest combined single-game total in Southeastern Football history.
“I’m so proud of our guys,” Southeastern head coach Frank Scelfo said. “We knew it was going to be this kind of game, but we continued to grind and found a way to win on the road against a very good football team. We have a special group of guys that our fans can be proud of and we want the Lion Nation to pack Strawberry Stadium for Homecoming (versus HBU next Saturday).”
Southeastern quarterback and reigning Walter Payton Award winner Cole Kelley set a new career-high with five touchdown passes, throwing for 406 yards on 29-for-38 passing to lead the Lion attack. Kelley found Nick Kovacs, Damien Dawson, Gage Larvadain, Austin Mitchell and Ivan Drobocky on scoring passes. Mitchell led the Lions with 111 yards on nine catches.
All told, Kelley accounted for seven touchdowns, as he also rushed for two scores. Through five games, the Lion signal caller has thrown for 1,999 yards and 18 touchdowns, while also rushing for a team-high seven touchdowns – well ahead of his prolific pace from the spring, when he won the FCS version of the Heisman Trophy.
While Lindsey Scott and the Colonel offense managed 507 total yards, the SLU defense held serve enough times to help the Lions to a double-digit victory. Alphonso Taylor and Zy Alexander each had game-changing interceptions for Southeastern, while Alexis Ramos led SLU with a game-high 12 tackles.
The play of the game came on special teams. After the Colonels had cut a 17-point halftime deficit down to three late in the third quarter, Larvadain busted loose for a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown – tied for the longest in school history with Robert Hicks’ scoring return versus Ball State in 1979.
Scott threw for 298 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions on 22-for-39 passing to lead Nicholls, while also rushing for 108 yards and a score on 16 carries. Dai’Jean Dixon was Scott’s top target, hauling in 11 passes for 171 yards and two scores.
Nicholls took the early lead on the game’s opening drive. Scott evaded pressure and broke free for a 27-yard scoring scamper to put the Colonels on top, 7-0, with 12:34 remaining in the opening quarter.
After the two teams traded punts, SLU tied it up with an 11-play, 84-yard scoring drive. Kelley found Kovacs for an eight-yard score to knot the game at 7-7 with 4:33 left in the first period.
After forcing a three-and-out, the Lions took the lead for good with a drive that went into the second quarter. Kelley found Dawson from a yard out to cap a methodical 13-play, 56-yard drive and give Southeastern a 14-7 lead with 11:53 left in the opening half.
On the ensuing drive, Arlen Williams tipped Scott’s pass at the line of scrimmage and Taylor picked off the throw at the Nicholls 26-yard line. Six plays later, Kelley bulled in from a yard out to give Southeastern a 21-7 lead with 9:19 remaining in the second quarter.
Nicholls answered with a 10-play, 75-yard march to cut the lead in half. Scott found Dixon from four yards out to pull the Colonels within, 21-14, with 5:07 left in the second quarter.
On the next play from scrimmage, Larvadain was wide open and Kelley found the freshman for a 76-yard touchdown pass and a 28-14 advantage with 4:48 left in the first half.
On the ensuing drive, Alexander stepped in front of a Scott pass and intercepted it at the Colonel 33-yard line. SLU took advantage of the short field and Mateo Rengifo extended the lead with a 22-yard field goal to put the Lions up, 31-14, heading into the halftime break.
On the first drive of the second half, a short Kelley pass sailed out of the reach of Kovacs and into the hands of Nicholls’ Jordan Jackson who returned the pick for a 44-yard touchdown to cut the Lion lead to 31-21 with 13:20 left in the third quarter.
Southeastern calmly answered with a seven-play, 79-yard scoring drive. Kelley found Mitchell on a short pass and the speedster took it in from 30 yards out to put the Lions up, 38-21, with 9:40 remaining in the third quarter. The receiving touchdown was the 21st of Mitchell’s career.
Nicholls cut into the lead with a nine-yard touchdown run by Albert with 6:11 left in the third quarter. On the ensuing drive, Kelley was stripped by Jequaries Martin and Perry Ganci pounced on the loose ball for Nicholls at the Lion 43-yard line. Nicholls took advantage of the miscue, as Scott found K.J. Franklin from 15 yards out to pull the Colonels within, 38-35, with 3:54 left in the third quarter.
On the ensuing kickoff, Larvadain broke free down the left sideline and took the return back 100 yards for a touchdown and a 45-35 SLU lead. The New Orleans, Louisiana native is the first Lion to return a kickoff for a touchdown since Juwan Petit-Frere versus UIW in 2017.
After Southeastern forced a Nicholls punt, the Lions went on another scoring drive that carried into the final quarter. Kelley scampered in from three yards out to cap an eight-play, 81-yard march and put SLU up, 52-35, with 13:03 remaining in the contest.
Nicholls came right back with an 11-play, 84-yard scoring drive. Scott found Dixon from 21 yards out to cut the Lions lead to 52-42 with just over nine minutes left.
After Kovacs cleanly fielded a pop up kickoff attempt, SLU put the clinching score on the board. With a defender draped all over him, Kelley found a wide open Drobocky from 28 yards out for his fifth touchdown pass of the day and a 58-42 lead with 5:22 to play – the most by a Lion since Tyler Beatty tossed five versus Texas State in 2010.
Nicholls cut the lead to 58-48 with just over three minutes left on a three-yard scoring run by Franklin, but SLU turned away the two-point attempt to keep the deficit at 10. Matt Wright recovered the ensuing onside kick and returned it all the way to the Nicholls 15-yard line. From there, Southeastern picked up a first down and then was able to run out the clock on its victory.
Southeastern will open its 2021 home schedule next Saturday, welcoming Houston Baptist for a 4 p.m. Homecoming contest in Strawberry Stadium. The game will be televised on ESPN+, while also being heard in the Hammond area on Kajun 107.1 FM, The Highway 104.7 FM and The Boss 103.7 FM/1400 AM, as well as online at www.kajun107.net.
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