Southeastern claims third SLC title with 40-17 River Bell win at Nicholls

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SLU Lions wins 2022 Southland regular season title

THIBODAUX, La. – For the first time since 2014 and the third time in school history, the Southeastern Louisiana University Lions are Southland Conference champions.

The No. 23 Lions (8-3, 5-1 SLC) scored the game’s final 23 points on the way to a convincing 40-17 victory over Nicholls Thursday night in John L. Guidry Stadium.

With the win, Southeastern secures the SLC’s automatic bid in the FCS playoffs, which starts Nov. 26. The 24-team postseason field will be announced Sunday at 11:30 a.m. Central on ESPNU. Southeastern will be making its fifth postseason appearance and third in the past four years.

“In 2018, we ended my season with a 44-0 loss here in Thibodaux,” Southeastern fifth-year head coach Frank Scelfo said. “Take a look back where we came from and to now be a part of a Southland Conference championship program that is consistently in the postseason; it’s been a great journey.

“This is where I wanted us to be when I came here,” Scelfo added. “I knew Southeastern was a special place. Our culture is strong and all the players who came before this team helped build this strong foundation.”

Thursday marked the third time the Lions entered the River Bell Classic with a chance to win the Southland title. The first two times Nicholls played the spoiler, but big performances on both sides of the ball resulted in a charmed third chance for SLU.

A balanced Southeastern offense finished with 413 total yards (247 passing, 176 rushing). Eli Sawyer threw for 228 yards and three touchdowns on 19-for-24 passing, connecting with Ivan Drobocky on a pair of scoring passes. Jessie Britt also hauled in a touchdown pass to go with 90 yards and a rushing score on 11 carries.

Defensively, the Lions forced the Colonels into four turnovers, as Zy Alexander and Brandon Barbee each intercepted passes. Ian Goodly and Anthony Britton Jr. were each credited with forced fumbles that were pounced on by Donniel Ward-Magee and Cullan Scott.

Jack Henderson led SLU with nine tackles, while Bryce Cage collected a pair of sacks for Southeastern. The Lions held Nicholls to just 270 total yards and 15 first downs.

Much has it has all season, Southeastern bounced back from adversity. After Nicholls tied it up, 17-17, late in the second quarter, the Lions dominated from that point forward.

“We have had so many contribute this year in all three phases and help us overcome adversity,” Scelfo commented. “It’s been everyone from freshmen to fifth-year seniors that have all played apart and tonight was no different. It all goes back to the strength of the culture of our program.”

Nicholls quarterback Kohen Granier finished the contest with 124 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions on 11-for-21 passing. Colonel running back Julien Gums closed out a tremendous career with 95 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries.

After the teams traded punts, Nicholls struck first. Gums powered in from six yards out to highlight a four-play, 72-yard scoring drive and give the Colonels a 7-0 lead with 9:24 left in the opening quarter. Granier connected with Al’Dontre Davis for a 42-yard bomb to set up Gums’ score.

After the touchdown, a 43-yard kickoff return by Gage Larvadain and a Nicholls penalty set the Lions up in Colonel territory. Riley Callaghan connected on a 33-yard field goal to cut the Colonel advantage to 7-3 with just under seven minutes remaining in the first period.

On the ensuing drive, a big hit by Britton Jr. forced a K.J. Franklin fumble that Ward-Magee recovered at the Colonel 27-yard line. Four plays later, Sawyer found Drobocky from eight yards out to give SLU a 10-7 lead with 3:57 remaining.

After forcing a Nicholls three-and-out, Southeastern added to its lead as the game moved into the second quarter. Sawyer found Britt on a short screen and Britt leaped over a defender for an eight-yard touchdown to give the Lions a 17-7 lead with 12:58 remaining in the opening half.

Nicholls answered with a 48-yard kickoff return by Jaylon Spears into Southeastern territory. The Colonels cut into the lead on a 11-yard scoring toss from Granier to Marquese Albert to trim the deficit to 17-14 with 9:45 remaining in the half.

Southeastern was forced to punt on its next possession and attempted a fake punt that was unsuccessful. Nicholls took over at the Lion 48-yard line and tied the game with a 28-yard field goal by Gavin Lasseigne with 4:21 remaining in the second quarter.

From that point forward, it was all Lions.

Southeastern retook the lead on the ensuing drive. Facing a fourth-and-short, Britt broke through the initial line of defense and raced untouched for a 33-yard touchdown run and a 24-17 SLU advantage with 1:17 left in the half.

On the ensuing drive, Alexander stepped in front of a Granier pass, picked it and returned it 47 yards for a touchdown, sending SLU into the break with a 30-17 lead.

Nicholls kicked the opening kickoff of the second half short away from Larvadain and Rodeo Graham Jr. returned it 46 yards to the Colonel 29-yard line. Three plays later, Callaghan pushed a 46-yard field goal wide right to keep the lead at 30-17 with 13:04 left in the third quarter.

On the next play from scrimmage, Goodly stripped Granier and Scott fell on the loose ball. However, SLU was turned over on downs to keep the lead at 37-17 with 4:34 left in the third quarter.

Southeastern turned Nicholls over on downs and the ensuing Lion drive went into the fourth quarter. Callaghan netted a 21-yard field goal to extend the lead to 40-17 with 8:51 remaining.

Nicholls mounted one last drive, but Barbee picked off Granier to end the Colonels’ final march. Southeastern was able to run out the clock and secure the victory over its River Bell rivals.

SLU – 10 20 7 3 – 40 (8-3, 5-1 SLC)
NICH – 7 10 0 0 – 17 (3-8, 3-3 SLC)

Scoring Summary
1st Quarter
NICH – Gums 6 run (Lasseigne kick), 9:24
SLU – Callaghan 33 FG, 6:52
SLU – Drobocky 8 pass from Sawyer (Callaghan kick), 3:57
2nd Quarter
SLU – Britt 8 pass from Sawyer (Callaghan kick), 12:58
NICH – Albert 11 pass from Granier (Lasseigne kick), 9:45
NICH – Lasseigne 28 FG, 4:21
SLU – Britt 33 run (Callaghan kick), 1:17
SLU – Alexander 47 interception return (Kovacs rush failed), 0:31
3rd Quarter
SLU – Drobocky 51 pass from Sawyer (Callaghan kick), 6:50
4th Quarter
SLU – Callaghan 21 FG, 8:51

TEAM STATS NICH SLU
FIRST DOWNS 22 15
RUSHES-YARDS (NET) 36-176 34-146
PASSING YDS (NET) 247 124
Passes Att-Comp-Int 30-21-0 21-11-2
TOTAL OFFENSE PLAYS-YARDS 66-423 55-270
Fumble Returns-Yards 0-0 0-0
Kickoff Returns-Yards 4-101 6-132
Punt Returns-Yards 1-2 0-0
Interception Returns-Yards 2-47 0-0
Punts (Number-Avg) 1-57.0 3-45.3
Fumbles-Lost 1-0 3-2
Penalties-Yards 7-60 7-70
Possession Time. 34:01 25:59
Third-Down Conversions 6-13 3-9
Fourth-Down Conversions 1-3 0-1
Red Zone Scores-Chances 4-4 3-3

RUSHING: SLU – Britt 11-90, Graham Jr. 10-43, McClendon 6-32, Sawyer 1-8, Larvadain 1-3, Johnson III 5-2, Team 2-(-2). Totals – 36-176. NICH – Gums 21-95, Albert 3-22, Spears 3-13, Granier 5-11, Guggenheim 2-5. Totals – 34-146.

PASSING: SLU – Sawyer 19-24-0-228-3, Johnson III 2-5-0-19-0, Larvadain 0-1-0-0-0. Totals – 21-30-0-247-3. NICH – Granier 11-21-2-124-1. Totals – 11-21-2-124-1.

RECEIVING: SLU – Larvadain 5-19, Kovacs 4-57, Spurlock 3-49, Massey 3-36, Drobocky 2-59, Lewis 2-2, Carter 1-17, Britt 1-8. Totals – 21-247. NICH – Albert 3-28, Davis 2-47, Negrotto 2-26, Franklin 2-13, Robinson 1-6, Gums 1-4. Totals – 11-124.

A – 7,911.

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