HAMMOND — Southeastern Louisiana football coach Ron Roberts tries to motivate his players to seek a breakthrough moment — the time they rise above the rest.
Senior defensive back Denzel Thompson heeded Roberts’ call with the game of a lifetime that not only resulted in personal gain, but in victory as well.
Thompson — who stepped into a larger playing role three weeks ago with the loss of All-Southland Conference cornerback Harlan Miller — registered a career-high seven tackles, two interceptions and recovered a blocked field goal in SLU’s 30-22 win last week over Northwestern State.
“It’s disappointing when a teammate goes down, especially one that’s so talented,” Thompson said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re first- or second-team. They want you to act like you are a starter. You see it as your turn.”
The play of Thompson — coupled with an opportunistic defense that recorded three interceptions, as well as a special-teams unit that blocked three kicks — enabled No. 9 Southeastern (4-2, 2-0) to remain tied with Central Arkansas in the Southland standings heading into Saturday’s 6 p.m. Southland Conference game at Lamar (4-2, 1-1).
“It’s a pretty unbelievable game,” Roberts said of Thompson during his Tuesday luncheon. “He played really well. It wasn’t just the picks. His guy wasn’t open most of the time. He did a good job of run support. You name it, he was playing lights out.
“We talk about breakout games for individual players,” Roberts said. “He’s been a good player but never had that whole game where he wows you. He definitely did that and now we expect it from him every week.”
Thompson had an interception in the second quarter that led to the first of three field goals from kicker Ryan Adams, who like Thompson enjoyed a watershed day with a school-record 55-yard field goal in the second quarter.
Northwestern State had reduced SLU’s lead from 30-8 to 30-22 during a furious fourth-quarter charge, but Thompson stepped in to secure his team’s victory with an interception in the end zone with 59 seconds to play.
For his efforts, Thompson was named defensive player of the week by the Southland Conference and Louisiana Sports Writers Association.
“I give credit to the coaches and the D-Line for getting pressure on the quarterback to force some errant throws,” Thompson said. “The coaches are strict on eye discipline and looking at your receivers. They keep us right throughout the week.”
Adams’ career game helped compensate for a Southeastern offense held in check to the tune of 235 total yards or nearly half of its usual production. The Lions ran 25 fewer plays and had the ball for seven minutes less than the Demons.
Roberts lamented his offense’s failure to convert red-zone opportunities into touchdowns instead of having to rely on the accurate right leg of Adams — a combination that could have created additional separation earlier in the game.
Northwestern State’s ability to successfully execute two fake punts and recover an onside kick down the stretch was also a point of contention with Roberts.
“I knew going into the game Northwestern was a much improved team,” Roberts said. “They were a lot better than they were last year, and they were playing inspired football.
“You could tell that by the way they played. This was their Super Bowl. They were rolling all of the marbles out. I thought we had to maintain composure, not let it slip and just keep plugging away and we would be in good shape.”
Roberts said running back Kody Sutton, the team’s second-leading rusher with 229 yards and 2 TDs, suffered an AC sprain in his shoulder and will be a game day decision. ... Miller has been cleared to play this week following a dislocated shoulder. ... Southeastern holds a 6-3 lead in series with Lamar and has won the last two games. The Cardinals are coming off a 24-21 conference win over Abilene Christian.