Denzel Thompson had been coming up big when Southeastern needed him to all day — why not one more time?
Late in the fourth quarter, the Lions found themselves on the wrong end of what was shaping into a come-from-behind victory as Northwestern State marched down the field with an eight-point deficit after scoring 14 unanswered points and recovering the onside kick to erase a 30-8 Southeastern lead.
Southeastern coach Ron Roberts and his team stood shocked wondering where their lead went so quickly, and as Northwestern quarterback Zach Adkins chucked the ball up into the end zone with a minute left in the game, and the entire sideline fell silent.
“I don’t think I can say (what was going through my mind at the time),” Roberts joked.
But Thompson was right where he needed to be, coming down with the game-sealing interception in the end zone as Southeastern held on to beat the Demons 30-22 Saturday at Strawberry Stadium in Hammond.
“I took advantage of the plays I did, but I’m just really thankful for the opportunity to play for Southeastern another day,” Thompson said. “I just know every play I have to get it my all, and the best outcome will come out.”
The interception was only the latest in a series of big plays Thompson was involved in on the day, as he reeled in another interception and returned a blocked field goal in the second quarter, both of which set up field goals.
Sixteen of Southeastern’s 30 points Saturday came via defensive touchdown or field goal, including a 55-yard field goal from Ryan Adams, which was good for the program record.
After falling behind by 22, the Demons (2-3, 0-1 Southland Conference) chipped away at the Southeastern lead after Devante Scott fumbled on a punt return, and Adam Jones recovered at the SLU 11 to set up Garrett Atzenweiler’s 4-yard TD run to cut the lead to 30-14 after A.J. Bowen blocked Chris Moore’s PAT attempt.
The Demons forced a SLU (4-2, 2-0) punt, and Adkins hit Atzenweiler on a 7-yard TD pass to close out a 14-play, 73-yard drive. Adkins connected with Bryant Mitchell on the two-point conversion to cut the lead to 30-22 with 2:47 to play.
That set the stage for Andy Wickman’s on-side kick, which was recovered by Tuff McClain at the SLU 48. From there, the Demons drove to the Lion 36 before Thompson’s interception sealed the win.
The Lions’ defensive score came just two plays into the second half as linebacker Isiah Corbett returned an interception 44 yards for a touchdown — the first of his collegiate career — to give Southeastern a 13-0 lead with 13:38 to play in the third quarter.
Adams hit a 30-yard field goal to extend the lead to 16-0 before the Demons put together a 16-play, 75-yard drive, which was capped by Adkins’ 1-yard TD run. Adkins hit Mitchell on the two-point conversion to cut the lead to 16-8 with 2:59 to play in the third quarter.
But the Lions answered quickly as Xavier Roberson returned the ensuing kickoff 79 yards to the Demon 7. Two plays later, Kody Sutton scored on a 6-yard run for a 23-8 lead with 2:10 to play in the third quarter.
Thompson called the defensive play Saturday the embodiment of the unit’s slogan “Nasty D,” which means giving it all on every play.
“We live by it, it’s our pride every week,” Thompson said. “It doesn’t matter if the offense is having a good game or not, we have to give it our all.”
And the Nasty D couldn’t have come at a better time as the Lions offense sputtered for the majority of the game.
Southeastern quarterback Bryan Bennett amassed just 150 yards of total offense — his lowest total in a full game with the Lions.
Bennett, however, connected with Scott on a 28-yard touchdown pass to stretch the lead to 30-8 against a Northwestern State defense that loaded the box and didn’t allow Bennett to roam free.
“I already know my completion percentage isn’t that great, and I haven’t seen them yet,” Bennett said. “It’s just one of those things where we didn’t have an explosive day, but we got the ‘W’, and at the end of the day, that’s all that matters.”
Roberts credited the Demons front for stopping his typically prolific offense, saying that they expected to have some problems moving the ball after watching tape of Northwestern State’s win against Louisiana Tech.
Northwestern State coach Jay Thomas said his team had a shot at the end but ultimately couldn’t execute when they needed to on a day when the Lions blocked three field goals.
“Just made too many mistakes, too many missed opportunities to get points,” Thomas said. “When you play a good football team, you have to be able to put the ball into the end zone or through the uprights.”