No. 17 SLU outlasts No. 18 Idaho in 45-42 FCS first round thriller
HAMMOND, La. – Idaho kicker Ricardo Chavez’s 39-yard field goal attempt with 11 seconds remaining sailed wide left and the No. 17 Southeastern Louisiana University football team held off the Vandals, 45-42, in the first round of the NCAA FCS playoffs Saturday night in Strawberry Stadium.
With the win, SLU (9-3) advances to face sixth-seeded Samford at 2 p.m. next Saturday in Birmingham, Alabama. The visiting Vandals, making their first FCS playoff appearance since 1995, finished the season with a 7-5 overall record.
Southeastern faced a 21-10 deficit in the second quarter, but were able to rally for the victory. The win marks the third straight postseason win at home for SLU, which is advancing to the second round for the third time in the past four years.
“We’re one of the final 16 teams left and everybody left has a really good football team,” Southeastern head coach Frank Scelfo commented. “To be able to consistently be in this position says a lot about our program.
“We’ve overcome adversity all season and tonight was no different,” Scelfo added. “No matter what this group faces, they just don’t blink and that what makes this such a special group.”
SLU quarterback Cephus Johnson III led a balanced attack that finished with 451 total yards (227 passing, 224 rushing). The Mobile, Alabama native threw for 208 yards on 18-for-28 passing, while rushing for 69 yards and a pair of scores. Jessie Britt finished with 106 yards on 13 carries and threw a touchdown pass to Nick Kovacks, while Carlos Washington Jr. added a pair of rushing touchdowns.
“Cephus had great preparation through the course of the week and that set him up for success tonight,” Scelfo said.
Idaho came to Hammond with a plus-14 turnover margin for the season, but Southeastern forced three takeaways and didn’t commit any of its own. Zy Alexander had a pick six, while Donniel Ward-Magee also recorded his third pick of the season. Ian Goodly forced a fumble that Jack Henderson recovered. Goodly led Southeastern with 10 tackles.
“Idaho doesn’t turn the ball over, so for us to get three changed the momentum of the game,” Scelfo commented. “The outcome of the game was determined by us finishing plus-three in the turnover battle.”
Idaho finished with 465 total yards on offense. Jerry Rice Award finalist Gevani McCoy threw for 343 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions on 19-for-26 passing. Hayden Hatten (nine catches, 209 yards, 1 TD) and Jermaine Jackson (five catches, 111 yards, 1 TD) were McCoy’s top targets.
Southeastern forced a fumble on the first play from scrimmage, as Goodly stripped Hatten and Henderson fell on the loose ball. However, SLU went three-and-out on the ensuing drive.
Idaho settled in and went on a nine-play, 72-yard march to take the lead. Roshaun Johnson bulled in from a yard out to give the Vandals a 7-0 lead with 8:14 left in the opening quarter.
Southeastern answered with a 13-play, 75-yard scoring drive of its own. Johnson III swept around right end from two yards out to tie the score at 7-7 with just over two minutes left in the first quarter.
Idaho came right back with another touchdown drive, covering 65 yards on eight plays. McCoy scrambled for a three-yard score to put UI up, 14-7, less than two minutes into the second quarter.
SLU cut into the lead on its next possession. A 39-yard Riley Callaghan field goal capped an 11-play, 54-yard drive and pulled the Lions with, 14-10, at the midway part of the second quarter.
Idaho again was able to put together a scoring drive to extend the lead. Anthony Woods scampered in from five yards out to put the Vandals up, 21-10, with 4:11 left in the opening half.
Southeastern would trim the lead heading into the break, executing a flawless two-minute drill. Washington Jr. took a direct snap and scored from two yards out to cap a 12-play, 74-yard drive and send the Lions into halftime trailing, 21-17.
The two teams traded punts until SLU took its first lead. Britt found Kovacs from 19 yards out on a halfback pass to end an 11-play, 61-yard drive that took five minutes off the clock to give Southeastern a 24-21 lead with 5:46 remaining in the third quarter.
Idaho drove deep into Lion territory on the ensuing drive, but SLU finally forced McCoy into his first mistake. Tainano Gaulua pressured McCoy into an interception, as Ward-Magee made a diving pick in the end zone to keep the Southeastern lead at 24-21 with 1:02 left in the third quarter.
Early in the fourth quarter, Southeastern extended its advantage. Johnson III spun out of a tackle at the line of scrimmage and raced untouched for a 25-yard touchdown and a 31-21 advantage less than a minute into the final period.
On the ensuing kickoff, Jackson broke loose for a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to pull the Vandals back within three, 31-28, with 14:03 left.
After a Southeastern punt, Idaho retook the lead. Facing a fourth-and-four from the Lion 34-yard line, McCoy found Hatten for the go-ahead score with 9:15 remaining to give the Vandals a 35-31 cushion.
Southeastern once again answered to take the lead for good on the next drive. Facing a fourth-and-short inside the Idaho 30-yard line, Johnson III found Gage Larvadain for a 26-yard catch-and-run down to the Vandal one-yard line. One play later, Washington Jr. took the direct snap and bulled in from a yard out to put SLU on top, 38-35, with 5:13 remaining.
Two plays later, Alexander stepped in front of a McCoy pass and raced 48 yards untouched for his second interception return for a touchdown in as many games to give SLU a 45-35 cushion with 4:12 left.
Idaho wouldn’t go away, however. On the first play of the next drive, Alexander intercepted McCoy again to seemingly ice the game. However, the Loreauville, Louisiana native’s pick was overturned by a penalty. McCoy took advantage of the second chance and found Jackson for a 70-yard touchdown reception to pull the Vandals ahead, 45-42, with 3:23 remaining.
Southeastern was able to manage one first down and drain the Vandals of their timeouts, but Idaho was able to get the ball back near midfield with just under two minutes remaining. UI made it into SLU territory and had a chance to send the game to overtime, but Chavez’s kick missed wide left and the Lions advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the fourth time in program history.
Saturday’s game at Samford will be televised live on ESPN+ and can be heard live on Kajun 107.1 FM, The Highway 104.7 FM and The Boss 103.7 FM/1400 AM.
UI – 7 14 0 21 – 42 (7-5)
SLU – 7 10 7 21 – 45 (9-3)
UI – Johnson 1 run (Chavez kick), 8:14
SLU – Johnson III 2 run (Callaghan kick), 2:13
UI – McCoy 3 run (Chavez kick), 13:23
SLU – Callaghan 39 FG, 7:35
UI – Woods 5 run (Chavez kick), 4:11
SLU – Washington Jr. 2 run (Callaghan kick), 0:29
SLU – Kovacs 19 pass from Britt (Callaghan kick), 5:46
SLU – Johnson III 25 run (Callaghan kick), 14:16
UI – Jackson 95 kickoff return (Chavez kick), 14:03
UI – Hatten 34 pass from McCoy (Chavez kick), 9:15
SLU – Washington Jr. 1 run (Callaghan kick), 5:13
SLU – Alexander 48 interception return (Callaghan kick), 4:12
UI – Jackson 70 pass from McCoy (Chavez kick), 3:23
TEAM STATS UI SLU
FIRST DOWNS 24 27
RUSHES-YARDS (NET) 29-122 48-224
PASSING YDS (NET) 343 227
Passes Att-Comp-Int 26-19-2 29-19-0
TOTAL OFFENSE PLAYS-YARDS 55-465 77-451
Fumble Returns-Yards 0-0 0-0
Kickoff Returns-Yards 3-48.7 1-25.0
Punt Returns-Yards 1-6 1-(-8)
Interception Returns-Yards 0-0 2-48
Punts (Number-Avg) 1-41.0 4-36.5
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 0-0
Penalties-Yards 4-33 6-55
Possession Time. 26:43 33:17
Third-Down Conversions 6-8 8-15
Fourth-Down Conversions 1-1 2-2
Red Zone Scores-Chances 3-4 5-5
RUSHING: UI – Woods 7-58, Johnson 7-30, Cummins 8-23, McCoy 6-10, Whitney 1-1. Totals – 29-122. SLU – Britt 13-106, Johnson III 12-69, Washington Jr. 14-41, Graham Jr. 6-14, Larvadain 1-0, Team 1-(-1), Sharp 1-(-5). Totals – 48-224.
PASSING: UI – McCoy 19-26-2-343-2. Totals – 19-26-2-343-2. SLU – Johnson III 18-28-0-208-0, Britt 1-1-0-19-1. Totals – 19-29-0-227-1.
RECEIVING: UI – Hatten 9-209, Jackson 5-111, Whitney 2-15, Graves 2-8, Cummins 1-0. Totals – 19-343. SLU – Larvadain 6-55, Massey 4-61, Washington Jr. 3-18, Lewis 2-32, Sharp 1-24, Kovacs 1-19, Carter 1-10, Drobocky 1-8. Totals – 19-227.
A – 3,174.
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As a New Orleans-area native, Jude grew up a fan of all sports and teams in the area. It’s a passion for the games that brought him into the fields of sports broadcasting and journalism. Whether he’s informing, reporting or entertaining, Jude brings his own special flavor to the task at hand. This Jesuit High School and Loyola New Orleans…