HAMMOND — Southeastern Louisiana football coach Ron Roberts said the complexion of Thursday’s season-opener with Northwestern State was more out necessity than by design.
“For me, that’s the old school part of it,” Roberts said Tuesday during his weekly media luncheon. “I want to run the football. You’ve got to run the football to be effective. You have to run the football to win championships, you have to run the football in the playoffs. We’re always going to lean toward that.”
With first-year starting quarterback D’Shaie Landor was the victim several dropped passes in the first quarter, coupled with a fumble, sack and interception, the No. 18 Lions’ mode of travel became increasingly one dimensional.
Southeastern went almost exclusively to the ground, piling up 438 yards — the second-highest total since the program was reinstated in 2003 — and averaged 7.2 yards per carry to grind out a key 34-20 Southland Conference victory over Northwestern State at Turpin Stadium.
“That’s the fun part about football, and that’s moving people against their will,” Southeastern senior left offensive tackle Aaron Reed said. “I know I enjoyed it, and I’m sure the rest of the line did as well. Coach decided to keep running the ball, and we moved people out of the way and got first downs. If something’s working, why change it?”
Southeastern had four runners that divided the bulk of the team’s 61 rushing attempts, with Landor leading the way with 11 carries for 125 yards and an 81-yard touchdown for a 26-6 lead in the third quarter.
Redshirt freshman Julius Maracalin of Plaquemine debuted with 12 rushes for 120 yards, senior wide receiver Xavier Roberson added 90 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries, and senior running back Kody Sutton had 51 yards and a pair of scores on 15 attempts.
“We tried to calm everybody down by running the football,” said Roberts, whose team hosts Division II Florida Tech (0-1) at Strawberry Stadium at 7 p.m. Saturday. “We just stayed with it. I don’t think we got a true evaluation of our passing game.”
Landor was 2-of-10 passing for 15 yards with an interception. He threw five passes — all incomplete — after the first quarter.
Southeastern scored all five of its touchdowns on the ground, with Landor’s 81-yard dash coming after a first-down incompletion.
There were two more incompletions in the third quarter when Southeastern iced the game on Sutton’s 3-yard run that capped a 16-play, 75-yard drive that consumed 7 minutes, 48 seconds — all on the ground.
Landor connected with senior Jeff Smiley on the two-point conversion.
“Northwestern always plays us hard, so it felt great,” Reed said. “If no one else on their schedule they looking forward to playing, it’s Southeastern. Once we started rolling, it was kind of surprising to see how many rushing yards we had.”
The play of Southeastern’s defense — a unit that limited Northwestern State to 259 total yards and registered six sacks and a pair of interceptions — weighed heavily into Roberts’ more conventional approach on offense.
“When you have a good defense, you’re going to lean on the side of being conservative and make sure not to put them in a bad spot,” he said.
With two interceptions in his team’s opening win, All-American cornerback Harlan Miller of Kentwood was named the Southland Conference’s Defensive Player of the Week. He also moved into a six-way tie for ninth place on the school’s career interception list with nine. He ranks fifth in interception return yardage with 157. ... Southeastern’s six sacks lead all FCS schools.