NATCHITOCHES — D’Shaie Landor wasn’t asked to do too much during his first start as Southeastern Louisiana’s quarterback.
But when his number was called, Landor delivered.
While the Lions had ground their way on the ground to a two-touchdown lead, Landor broke off a run in the third quarter that showed off his potential as the Lions’ new signal-caller to replace departed All-American Bryan Bennett.
Midway through the third quarter, Landor kept on a read-option on third-and-2, sprinting down the right sideline 81 yards for a touchdown that put the Lions ahead by three scores en route to a 34-20 win over Northwestern State on Thursday night in the teams’ season and Southland Conference openers.
Southeastern coach Ron Roberts said Landor overcame a “shaky start” — which included a fumble and an interception in the first quarter — to turn in a solid effort. He finished with a game-high 125 rushing yards, overcoming a 2-for-10 passing night.
The Lions finished with 438 rushing yards on 61 carries, the second-highest total since Southeastern brought back football in 2003. Julius Maracalin finished with 120 yards, including an incredible 50-yarder in the third quarter to set up the Lions’ third touchdown of the night, and Xavier Roberson added 90 yards.
Roberts said the game plan was to control the line of scrimmage and clock with the running game. After the shaky start in the passing game, he said the Lions gave up on the pass, but they continued to move the ball on the ground.
“I thought the offensive line did an outstanding job controlling the line of scrimmage,” Roberts said. “The ground game worked really well.”
“You can’t give up over 400 yards rushing and win football games,” Northwestern State coach Jay Thomas said.
Despite trailing 26-6 after Landor’s long touchdown run, Northwestern State didn’t back down. Thomas inserted junior-college transfer Joel Blumenthal at quarterback, and his presence changed the complexion of the contest.
Northwestern State managed just four first downs and 64 yards in the first half behind senior Stephen Rivers, the former LSU and Vanderbilt quarterback, and junior Daniel Hazlewood.
But the Demons scored touchdowns on each of Blumenthal’s first two possessions. Senior Daniel Taylor cut up the seam to elude two tacklers on a 27-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter, and Blumenthal connected with junior Shakier Ryan on a 44-yard scoring strike early in the fourth to cut the Lions’ lead to six.
“Blumenthal really did a good job coming in,” Thomas said. “He’s athletic. He was able to move around and keep some plays alive.”
But when the Lions needed a positive possession, Landor delivered again.
Southeastern iced away nearly the final nine minutes as Landor led the Lions on a lengthy drive that began at their 25 with 8:49 left.
Southeastern ran 16 plays, all of them on the ground, as the Demons watched precious seconds tick off the clock. Perhaps the biggest play came on third-and-12, when Landor kept again on a read-option, running left for 14 yards and a first down.
Four plays later, Kody Sutton ran off the left edge for a 3-yard touchdown to cap an eight-minute drive in which the Demons couldn’t get a key stop.
It was the Lions’ 11th consecutive victory against an in-state Southland opponent as they opened the season searching for their third straight conference title.
“We’re trying to be Southland Conference champions again,” Roberson said. “Therefore, we’ve got to come out and dominate from the start. We can’t wait till the second or third game.
“We had to punch them in the mouth.”