Southeastern’s upset bid at UL Lafayette falls just short, 51-48
LAFAYETTE, La. – The 36 years Southeastern Louisiana and UL Lafayette waited to renew their rivalry was worth the wait.
A 95-yard scoring drive gave the Lions an opportunity at a go-ahead two-point conversion in the final minute, but UL Lafayette returned the try for two points of its own to secure a 51-48 victory in the season opener for both teams Saturday night at Cajun Field.
Making his first start for the Lions (0-1), SLU sophomore quarterback Lorenzo Nunez found junior wide receiver Nih-Jer Jackson for a 29-yard touchdown with 42 seconds left to cut the lead to 49-48. Rather than tie the game, the Lions went for two.
UL Lafayette senior Taboris Lee pressured Nunez and stripped him on the try and sophomore Joe Dillon returned the loose ball for two points to allow the Ragin’ Cajuns (1-0) to avoid the upset bid.
“I’m extremely proud of our football team’s effort tonight,” Southeastern head coach Ron Roberts said. “We had an opportunity to convert the two-point conversion and win the game. Hopefully, we’ll learn from this and react better if we’re in this situation later in the season. Overall, though, we were able to answer every time versus a good opponent in a hostile environment. It was a heck of a football game and I’m pleased with how we played.”
The meeting was the 39th all-time between the two in-state rivals, but the first since 1981. After a wild affair that featured 99 points, three special teams touchdowns and 877 combined yards of total offense, fans of both teams will be eager for the next meeting.
Nunez went the distance under center and engineered a Lion offensive attack that racked up 514 yards of total offense, as Southeastern posted its highest-ever point total versus an FCS opponent. The ground attack was the story for Southeastern, as SLU’s 343 yards were tied for the fifth-most by the Lions since the program returned in 2003.
Senior Eugene Bethea led the way on the ground with 187 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 23 carries. The Boca Raton, Florida’s output was a career-high and marked the ninth-highest single-game rushing output in program history. Junior Julius Maracalin added 76 yards and a touchdown on seven carries.
Nunez finished the night completing 15-of-25 passes for 171 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. Nunez’s top target was senior Juwan Dickey, who finished with eight passes for 99 yards. Jackson, sophomore Zeke Jenkins and sophomore Bransen Schwebel all caught touchdowns on the night. A 60-yard punt return by senior Max Lyons accounted for the Lions’ other score.
UL Lafayette finished with 363 yards of total offense on the game. In his first collegiate start, junior quarterback Jordan Davis managed 162 yards and a touchdown on 12-of-23 passing. Six running backs combined for 201 yards and four touchdowns on the ground.
The difference in the contest came in the return game. Ragin’ Cajun sophomore Raymond Calais returned two kickoffs for touchdowns in a wild opening quarter.
The opening period featured both teams making a splash on special teams. On the opening kickoff, Calais raced down the right sideline for a 97-yard kickoff return to stake the Ragin’ Cajuns to a 7-0 lead.
The Lions answered with a seven-play, 68-yard scoring march. Bethea turned the corner and raced in for a 42-yard touchdown run to tie the score at 7-7 with 11:22 left.
After SLU stopped the Ragin’ Cajuns on a three-and-out, Lyons gave SLU its first lead. On the first punt return of his career, the Los Angeles, California native zig-zagged 60 yards for a touchdown to give the Lions a 14-7 advantage with 9:47 remaining in the opening quarter.
UL Lafayette answered with a quick six-play, 78-yard scoring drive. Freshman Trey Ragas capped it with a 54-yard run to knot the score at 14 with 7:08 left in the back and forth opening period.
After the two teams traded empty possessions, an intentional grounding called on Davis forced the Ragin’ Cajuns to punt from just outside of their own end zone. A 33-yard return by Lyons set up SLU at the ULL two-yard line. Two plays later, Bethea bulled his way in from a yard out to give the Lions a 21-14 advantage with 3:09 still remaining in the first period.
Poor kickoff coverage again cost the Lions on the ensuing kickoff. Calais raced untouched 100 yards for his second kickoff return for a touchdown of the quarter to tie the score at 21-21 heading into the second quarter.
On the first play of the second quarter, Nunez was intercepted by UL Lafayette freshman Bralen Trahan. Four plays later, Davis found junior Ryheem Malone open in the left corner of the end zone for a 15-yard touchdown and a 28-21 lead with 13:47 left in the opening half.
SLU took just two plays to even the ledger at 28-28. Maracalin ran off the left side untouched for a 54-yard touchdown run to pull the Lions even with 12:53 left in the opening half.
UL Lafayette retook the lead on the ensuing drive, covering 72 yards on six plays. The key play saw Davis fake out the Lion defense on a fourth-and-one just over midfield and racing 38 yards to set up a goal-to-go situation. Shortly thereafter, sophomore Dion Ray scooted in from one yard out to put the Ragin’ Cajuns up, 35-28, with 10:01 left in the opening half.
Both defenses settled down over the next few minutes, but the Lions were able to even the game heading into the break. SLU marched 70 yards on 10 plays with Nunez finding a wide open Jenkins for a one-yard touchdown to go into the locker room tied, 35-35.
After the teams traded three-and-outs to start the second half, UL Lafayette put together a methodical 10-play, 50-yard scoring drive that ate up nearly five minutes of clock. Sophomore Jordan Wright muscled in for a three-yard scoring run to put the Ragin’ Cajuns back ahead, 42-35, with 5:11 left in the third quarter.
SLU would not go away, however. On the first play of the fourth quarter, the Ragin’ Cajuns converted on a fourth-and-one in Southeastern territory, but it was called back on a holding penalty, forcing UL Lafayette to punt.
Southeastern made the most of its opportunity, as Nunez led Southeastern on a nine-play, 80-yard scoring drive. A 36-yard pass to Dickey and a 24-yard scamper by Nunez highlighted the march, which Nunez capped with a three-yard scoring pass to Schwebel tied the score at 42-42 with 10:08 left in the contest.
It took less than two minutes for the Ragin’ Cajuns to take the lead. UL Lafayette covered 73 yards on five plays. The Ragin’ Cajuns got set up with a goal-to-go situation after an interception by senior Torrance Mosley was negated by a pass interference penalty. On the ensuing play, UL Lafayette freshman Elijah Mitchell walked in from two yards out to give the Ragin’ Cajuns a 49-42 lead.
After the two teams traded punts, Southeastern got the ball back with 3:16 remaining at its own five-yard line to set up the dramatic final drive.
The Lions will open its 2017 home schedule on Saturday, hosting Bethune-Cookman at 7 p.m. in Strawberry Stadium. The game will be televised on Eleven Sports Network and streamed live via the Southland Digital Network at www.southland.org. The game can also be heard on the Southeastern Sports Radio Network (KSLU 90.9 FM, Kajun 107.1 FM, The Highway 104.7 FM, WFPR 1400 AM), online at www.LionSports.net/listenlive and via the TuneIn Radio app.
SLU – 21 14 0 13 – 48 (0-1)
ULL – 21 14 7 9 – 51 (1-0)
ULL – Calais 97 kickoff return (Artigue kick), 14:49
SLU – Bethea 42 run (Burkhard kick), 11:22
SLU – Lyons 60 punt return (Burkhard kick), 9:47
ULL – Ragas 54 run (Artigue kick), 7:08
SLU – Bethea 1 run (Burkhard kick), 3:09
ULL – Calais 100 kickoff return (Artigue kick), 2:57
ULL – Malone 15 pass from Davis (Artigue kick), 13:47
SLU – Maracalin 54 run (Burkhard kick), 12:53
ULL – Ray 1 run (Artigue kick), 10:01
SLU – Jenkins 1 pass from Nunez (Burkhard kick), 0:05
ULL – Wright 3 run (Artigue kick), 5:11
SLU – Schwebel 3 pass from Nunez (Burkhard kick), 10:08
ULL – Mitchell 2 run (Artigue kick), 8:41
SLU – Jackson 29 pass from Nunez (Nunez run failed), 0:42
ULL – Dillon PAT return, 0:42
FIRST DOWNS 24 15
RUSHES-YARDS (NET) 54-343 36-201
PASSING YDS (NET) 171 162
Passes Att-Comp-Int 25-15-1 23-12-0
TOTAL OFFENSE PLAYS-YARDS 79-514 59-363
Fumble Returns-Yards 0-0 0-0
Kickoff Returns-Yards 7-161 4-229
Punt Returns-Yards 3-94 2-52
Interception Returns-Yards 0-0 1-5
Punts (Number-Avg) 6-41.7 7-38.7
Fumbles-Lost 3-1 0-0
Penalties-Yards 9-77 4-16
Possession Time. 34:07 25:53
Third-Down Conversions 10-of-17 5-of-13
Fourth-Down Conversions 0-of-0 1-of-1
Red Zone Scores-Chances 3-3 4-4
RUSHING: SLU – Bethea 23-187, Maracalin 7-76, Johnson 8-39, Nunez 11-23, Durall 4-15, Schwebel 1-3. Totals – 54-343. ULL – Ragas 4-61, Mitchell 11-56, Davis 8-48, Wright 7-27, Bradley 1-11, Ray 2-2, Team 3-(-4). Totals – 36-201.
PASSING: SLU – Nunez 15-25-1-171-3. Totals – 15-25-1-171-3. ULL – Davis 12-23-0-162-1. Totals – 12-23-0-162-1.
RECEIVING: SLU – Dickey 8-99, Jackson 2-35, Ingraffia 2-27, Schwebel 2-9, Jenkins 1-1. Totals – 15-171. ULL – Malone 4-37, Barnes 3-70, Jacquet 2-(-1), Bradely 1-34, Wright 1-19, Ragas 1-3. Totals – 12-162.
A – 18,289.
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