Southeastern upsets No. 6 Jacksonville State, 35-14, in opener

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SLU vs. Jacksonville State
(Photo: Randy Bergeron/SLU Athletics)

HAMMOND, La. – Southeastern Louisiana jumped out to a 14-0 lead and never looked back on the way to a convincing 35-14 victory over No. 6 Jacksonville State in the 2019 football season opener for both teams Thursday night in Strawberry Stadium.

SLU (1-0) picked up its first win over a top 10 team since a 34-21 victory over No. 4 Sam Houston State on Nov. 16, 2013. The Lions jumped on the visiting Gamecocks (0-1) from the outset and sent the five-time defending Ohio Valley Conference champions to just its 13th loss since the start of the 2014 campaign.

“Our guys played their hearts out tonight,” Southeastern head coach Frank Scelfo commented. “What we saw tonight is what we can accomplish when we play together as a team. We functioned as one unit working towards one goal. We weren’t a bunch of individuals, we played as a team.

“That’s the culture we’re working towards and this was a great first step,” Scelfo added. “We beat a very good football team tonight because we focused on team success over individual glory.”

Jacksonville State, which has advanced to the FCS playoffs in each of the past six seasons, finished with 481 total yards, but the aggressive Lion defense’s debut under new defensive coordinator Lance Guidry was opportunistic and keyed Thursday’s victory. SLU sacked JSU quarterback preseason OVC Player of the Year Zerrick Cooper six times and intercepted the Gamecock junior twice.

SLU senior Shawntrez Spates set up a touchdown with a first quarter pick, while sophomore Ferlando Jordan took back a third-quarter interception 65 yards back for a touchdown. Mike Mason, Joshua Carr Jr., Dwaine Thomas, Alexis Ramos, Will Douglas, Ronald Cherry III and Fred Brown each were credited with at least a partial sack, as SLU harassed Cooper throughout.

Mason led SLU with 11 tackles, while Tre’ Spann and Donniel Ward-Magee each finished with 10 stops apiece. Carr led the Lions with 2.5 tackles for loss and two pass breakups.

The Lion offense was efficient with Chason Virgil (11-for-24, 164 yards, 1 TD) and Cole Kelley (5-for-9, 74 yards, 2 TD) splitting time under center. Austin Mitchell (four catches, 86 yards), Devonte Williams (4-76) and Bransen Schwebel (3-33) each caught touchdowns, while Williams also rushed for a score.

First Quarter
Mason jumped the snap on the game’s opening play and sacked Cooper to set the tone early on. Two plays later, Spates stepped in front of a Cooper pass down the right flank and took it back 21 yards to the Gamecock four-yard line. On the next play, Williams raced untouched around left end to give SLU a 7-0 lead just 90 seconds in.

After SLU forced a JSU punt, the Lions again found the end zone. A 20-yard end around by Juwan Petit-Frere and a 22-yard Virgil-to-Mitchell hookup on a third-down conversion highlighted a nine-play, 80-yard scoring march. Kelley connected with Schwebel from five yards out to put Southeastern up, 14-0, with 7:06 remaining in the opening quarter.

The two teams traded three-and-outs before Jacksonville State cut the lead in half early in the second quarter.

Second Quarter
On the second play of the second quarter, Cooper dropped a perfect 33-yard pass to Josh Pearson to cut the Southeastern advantage to 14-7 with 14:33 left in the first half.

The defenses stiffened for the majority of the quarter, as both teams traded punts for the next four drives. Southeastern took over at its own 10-yard line with just under three minutes left.

Williams caught a short pass, shook a JSU defender and scooted 58 yards for a touchdown to send Southeastern into halftime with a 21-7 cushion.

Third Quarter
After the teams traded three-and-outs to open the second half, the JSU defense forced the only SLU turnover of the contest. Virgil scampered for a first down on third-and-long, but was stripped by Traco Williams, who pounced on the loose ball at the Lion 44-yard line.

The Lion defense would not allow the Gamecocks to take advantage. Three plays into the JSU drive, Jordan stepped in front of a Cooper pass and weaved his way untouched for a 65-yard score and a commanding 28-7 lead with 10:45 left in the third quarter.

The Gamecocks drove into Southeastern territory on each of their remaining drives in the third quarter, but the Lions turned JSU over on downs on both possessions to maintain a three-score lead heading into the final quarter.

Fourth Quarter
Southeastern put the nail in the coffin on the opening drive of the fourth quarter. Kelley found a wide-open Mitchell from 35 yards out to cap an eight-play, 80-yard drive and put SLU up, 35-7, with 12:13 remaining.

JSU answered with a 10-play, 80-yard march of its own on the ensuing possession. Michael Matthews hauled in a Cooper screen pass and scored from 28 yards out to cut the Lion lead to 35-14 with 8:50 left.

However, the Gamecocks would get no closer. The Lions turned JSU over on downs for the final time with just over two minutes left and Southeastern was able to run the clock out to secure the statement victory.

The win matched the highest-ranked non-conference opponent Southeastern has defeated since the program returned in 2003. The Lions played as an independent in 2003 and 2004 and defeated future league foe and then-No. 6 McNeese, 51-17, on Sept. 11, 2004

Up Next
Southeastern will open its road schedule in Daytona Beach, Florida next Saturday at 3 p.m. (CDT) versus Bethune-Cookman. The game will air on the Southeastern Sports Radio Network (KSLU-FM (90.9), Kajun 107.1 FM, The Highway 104.7 FM and The Boss 1400 AM/103.7 FM). Fans can also listen live at and via the Lions Game Day Experience and TuneIn Radio app.

JSU – 0 7 0 7 – 14 (0-1)
SLU – 14 7 7 7 – 35 (1-0)

Scoring Summary
1st Quarter
SLU – D. Williams 4 run (Broussard kick), 13:26
SLU – Schwebel 5 pass from C. Kelley (Broussard kick), 7:06
2nd Quarter
JSU – Pearson 33 pass from Cooper (Wallace kick), 14:33
SLU – D. Williams 58 pass from Virgil (Broussard kick), 1:34
3rd Quarter
SLU – Jordan 65 interception return (Broussard kick), 10:45
4th Quarter
SLU – Mitchell 35 pass from C. Kelley (Broussard kick), 12:13
JSU – Matthews 28 pass from Cooper (Wallace kick), 8:50

RUSHES-YARDS (NET) 24-67 30-146
Passes Att-Comp-Int 53-40-2 33-16-0
Fumble Returns-Yards 0-0 0-0
Kickoff Returns-Yards 6-113 2-36
Punt Returns-Yards 0-0 2-7
Interception Returns-Yards 0-0 2-86
Punts (Number-Avg) 5-38.8 5-36.0
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 2-1
Penalties-Yards 10-83 4-35
Possession Time. 34:11 25:49
Third-Down Conversions 6-of-15 6-of-13
Fourth-Down Conversions 0-of-3 0-of-1
Red Zone Scores-Chances 0-1 2-3

RUSHING: JSU – Matthews 4-38, Kinsey 5-30, Greene 3-4, Etheridge 2-4, Cooper 10-(-9). Totals 24-67. SLU – Virgil 3-37, D. Williams 12-37, Petit-Frere 3-25, C. Kelley 5-19, T. Jones 3-12, Mitchell 1-9, Cooper 3-7. Totals 30-146.

PASSING: JSU – Cooper 40-52-2-414-2, Etheridge 0-1-0-0-0. Totals 40-53-2-414-2. SLU – Virgil 11-24-0-164-1, C. Kelley 5-9-0-74-2. Totals 16-33-0-238-3.

RECEIVING: JSU – Barry 10-83, Hester 7-90, Byrd 6-66, Pearson 5-81, Washington 3-22, Greene 3-21, Rice 2-2, Matthews 1-28, Charleston 1-10, Edwards 1-8, Stepherson 1-3. Totals 40-414. SLU – Mitchell 4-86, D. Williams 4-76, Schwebel 3-33, Cooper 2-28, Conner 2-4, Petit-Frere 1-11. Totals 16-238.

A – 7,116.

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