HAMMOND — During the past two years, when Southeastern Louisiana reached the summit of the Southland Conference, a 20-point lead more than a quarter into the game would have been cause for celebration.
This season, such scenarios have been more cause for concern, brought on by inconsistent play and injuries.
“Great teams are consistent,” Southeastern coach Ron Roberts said Tuesday during his press luncheon. “If you’re going to be a conference champion, or compete for those kinds of things, you have to be consistent on every down for four quarters.”
Last week, in a loss against Stephen F. Austin, the Lions saw the majority of their 20-0 lead evaporate by halftime, then regained a two-score edge on their first series of the third quarter — thanks to a 61-yard dash by Plaquemine redshirt freshman Julius Maracalin.
The Lions didn’t score again and were unable to stop Stephen F. Austin from driving 72 yards in 17 plays, scoring the game-winning TD with 38 seconds remaining in a stunning 28-27 homecoming defeat last Saturday.
SLU (3-3, 2-2), unranked for the first time this season, must now push aside the angst of a two-game losing streak and travel to Houston Baptist (2-5, 0-4) for a 2 p.m. kickoff Saturday in Southland Conference action.
“We feel we’re still in this,” Southeastern linebacker Tre Bennett, who returned a first-quarter fumble 49 yards for a 7-0 lead. “We haven’t counted ourselves out. We know what we have to do. We know what we still have to play for. Everybody’s still ready to go to practice, get better and come out with wins on Saturdays.”
Roberts was quick to recall that SLU was 1-2 during the 2013 season and went on to win its next 10 games to claim its first SLC crown and reach the NCAA playoffs.
A year ago, the Lions were 2-2 through four weeks before reeling off four straight wins and seven victories in eight games to earn a share of the league title and qualify for postseason play.
“There’s still a lot of football left,” Roberts said. “There’s five guaranteed games left. We need to try and go get them all.”
Southeastern is chasing Sam Houston State (4-2, 4-1), which it doesn’t play this season, and Central Arkansas (3-3, 2-1), where the Lions travel in two weeks.
“There’s no margin for error,” SLU All-American cornerback Harlan Miller said. “We’ve just got to continue to get our guys to believe that if we win out we’ve still got a chance to make the playoffs. Everything will be OK if we take care of our business from here on out.”
For the second straight week, SLU has to deal with the loss of one of its offensive stalwarts.
After losing leading receiver Jeff Smiley to a season-ending knee injury, the Lions lost the school’s career leader in kickoff return yardage, senior Xavier Roberson, who is considered one of the league’s dynamic playmakers.
Roberts said Roberson, the team’s leading rusher, suffered a broken bone in his lower leg but stopped short of labeling it season-ending in the event SLU can reach postseason play.
Southeastern also played without offensive line starters Aaron Reed (high ankle sprain) and Pierson Villarubia (concussion). The Lions were also without free safety Micah Eugene (turf toe) and defensive backs Denzel Thompson (hamstring) and Josh Dakin, who was ejected for targeting and will miss the first half of Saturday’s game.
“It’s still out there,” Roberts said. “If we can sweep the, table we have a chance to get in the playoffs. It’s a real logical expectation. You want to take care of your business.”