HAMMOND — In front of one of the largest crowds in school history, the Southeastern Louisiana football team put on a show in its homecoming game against Central Arkansas.
The Bears kept it close for the majority of the game, including closing the deficit to three points with only a few minutes to play, but the Lions eventually put it together in the end to take sole possession of the top spot in the Southland Conference with a 41-24 win Saturday night at Strawberry Stadium in front of 8,766.
Quarterback Bryan Bennett had 170 yards on 11-of-19 passing and another 137 yards on the ground, and his 75-yard touchdown run with six minutes left to play that gave the Lions all they needed to persevere at home.
“I say every time I break a run, I was just trying not to get caught at that point,” Bennett said with a laugh. “I know it was an important time in the game for us to put some points on the board, and there was no better way to do it than in one play.”
Bennett’s score came only a play after Central Arkansas blocked punt, which was returned for a score by Willie Matthews, cutting the lead to 27-24 with 6:11 to play. The block was the second of the night for the Bears after Haywood Jeffries got his hand on a punt in the second quarter.
Southeastern running back Xavier Roberson closed out the scoring when he busted off a 30-yard touchdown run with 3:03 to play. Roberson also scored on a 1-yard run off the left tackle at the end of the first quarter to give the Lions a 14-10 lead.
“That’s what those guys are capable of,” Southeastern coach Ron Roberts said. “When they get into the secondary, they’re capable of running and making some huge plays. If you do it enough, they are going to spring one.”
Bennett’s three rushing scores on the night tied his career high at Southeastern. He broke off a 28-yard scoring run on the Lions’ first drive of the night as well as a diving, 2-yard score early in the fourth quarter after rolling out to the right side to put the Lions up 27-17.
Roberts said despite Bennett being contained for large portions of the night, Saturday was his best game in terms of his maturity on the sideline and showing patience in a game since coming to Hammond.
“After last week’s game, coach and I sat down, and he wanted me to execute the ball game better,” Bennett said. “It’s something we saw that we had to do once we start facing better teams like UCA. I think as an offense, we did that today.
“It just kind of proves that if you buy into what you’re doing as an offense, as a defense or as a team … it may not be every time, but the big plays will come.”
Harlan Miller intercepted a tipped ball with less than a minute to play in the game to seal the win. The interception marked the Lions’ third of the night. Denzel Thompson had two interceptions. Thompson’s second interception was probably his most important, though, as he picked off Central Arkansas quarterback Taylor Reed at the Southeastern 10-yard line late in the fourth quarter during a drive that could have put Central Arkansas back within striking distance.
The interception, along with Thompson’s diving pick in the first quarter, gave him his team-leading fourth interception of the season and helped produce the first game in which the Bears offense failed to score a passing touchdown this season.
Roberts praised Thompson and the defense’s ability to come up with the big play when the team needed it.
While Thompson and Miller’s turnovers may have proved more important, defensive back Micah Eugene made the most impressive play of the night as he lit up Central Arkansas wide receiver Desmond Smith in the red zone, forcing a fumble on a hit that was initially ruled targeting, but an official review proved otherwise.
“Not only does it get us off the field, but they’re in the red zone, probably going to score, and for him to make a huge play and turn it around, it’s what we needed at the time,” Roberts said.