HAMMOND — The River Bell trophy is headed back to Thibodaux.
Francisco Condado kicked a 40-yard field goal with no time remaining to lift Nicholls State to a 27-24 win over Southeastern Louisiana in the 25th River Bell Classic on Thursday night.
Southeastern (4-7, 3-6 Southland Conference) led 17-3 at halftime — but for the second consecutive week, Nicholls fought back in the second half. The Colonels rallied with touchdown drives on their first three second-half possessions to take a 24-17 lead, and then marched to their final score with less than a minute to play.
“What can I say about the whole senior class and the team for the way they pulled together,” Nicholls coach Tim Rebowe said. “I’m so proud of them.”
Southeastern had tied it with a 56-yard drive in the final minutes. D’Shaie Landor’s 3-yard pass to Jordan Batiste helped the Lions even the score at 24 with 59 seconds remaining.
“It was an emotional game. It’s a great college football rivalry,” SLU coach Ron Roberts said. “If you’re a fan, that was a great game. For us, it was another heartbreaking loss.”
The loss was Southeastern’s fourth in a row. It was also the third time this season the Lions have lost in the final minute.
Nicholls (3-8, 3-6) came in looking to pick up where it left off last week, when a fourth-quarter rally came up short in a 34-31 loss at Central Arkansas. Quarterback Landry Klann hit career highs with 368 yards and four touchdowns in that game but was mostly held in check against SLU.
The Colonels’ ground game was there to make up the difference. Tobias Landry led a strong Nicholls rushing effort with 147 yards and a touchdown. Overall, Nicholls ran for 273 yards — 201 of which came after halftime.
“We probably played our worst first half in a long time,” Rebowe said. “We were undisciplined. But when we scored to start the third quarter, we were right back in it.”
The game-winning drive started at the NSU 25-yard line with 59 seconds left. Two passes and two runs brought the ball into SLU territory. With 19 seconds left, Klann’s 15-yard completion to C.J. Bates brought gave the Colonels a first down at the SLU 23.
With the clock still running, Nicholls called its final timeout with 3 seconds left, clearing the way for Condado’s game-winning kick.
“I can‘t say enough about the players and all the story lines in this game,” Rebowe said.
Lofton’s 62-yard run cut Nicholls’ deficit to 17-10 early in the third. The Colonels followed that with a 62-yard drive that Landry finished off with a 9-yard run.
The go-ahead score ended a 10-play, 91-yard drive that was aided by three SLU penalties — holding, roughing the passer and pass interference. Michael Henry got the score on a 2-yard run.
Southeastern almost tied the game with nine minutes left. Landor connected with Acker for an apparent 48-yard touchdown pass, but Acker was flagged for offensive pass interference.
Julius Maracalin, who led Southeastern with 121 yards rushing, found plenty of running room in the first half when Lions surged ahead. He carried four times for 35 yards to set up SLU’s first score, Micah Eugene’s 17-yard run.
He had 30 yards on an SLU field-goal drive, and then picked up 18 yards on a short touchdown drive before the half. On that one, Landor hit Brandon Acker in stride on a 28-yard slant as the Lions led 17-3 lead at halftime.
Southeastern’s defense controlled Nicholls for most of the first half. Colonels’ safety Ahmani returned an interception 29 yards to the SLU 26 early in the first quarter, but Nicholls couldn‘t capitalize. Condado’s 50-yard field goal try caromed no good off the left upright.
Nicholls only first-half score came late as the Colonels drove 47 yards to the SLU 28. From there, Condado pulled Nicholls to within 10-3 with a 45-yard field goal.
Landor’s 28-yard pass to Acker put SLU ahead 17-3 with 1:01 to go in the half. For the game, Landor was 19 of 38 for 186 yards and two touchdowns.