HAMMOND — This long season cut even deeper into a Southeastern Louisiana team that was already among the nation’s leaders in heartbreak.
Less than a month after having Stephen F. Austin conclude a 17-play drive in the final minute for a 28-27 victory, Abilene Christian scored on a 1-yard pass play with 22 seconds remaining — concluding an 18-play, 80-yard drive — for a 21-17 win Saturday.
Southeastern ended the game on Abilene’s 35-yard line but couldn’t score. It was a setback that sealed a steep fall from consecutive Southland Conference championships to a lower-tier finish and losing season.
Now SLU (4-6, 3-5) must regroup in a five-day span. The Lions conclude their season at 6 p.m. Thursday at Strawberry Stadium against Nicholls State (2-8, 2-6) in the River Bell Classic.
“We have to have all of our focus on this one,” Southeastern coach Ron Roberts said. “The way our season has gone, this game is our bowl game, our playoffs, our everything. This gives us something to play for, to finish with something at stake. Our guys are looking forward to playing in it.”
SLU led Abilene 7-0 at halftime on quarterback D’Shaie Landor’s 2-yard run, then extended that margin to 17-7 on Jonathan Tatum’s 29-yard field goal and Landor’s 15-yard TD pass to Chris Briggs on the first play of the fourth quarter.
But Abilene closed to within three, 17-14, less than two minutes later to set the scene for an all-too-familiar finish against an SLU defense, which spent a lot of time on the field in the second half.
On its winning drive, Abilene converted four times on third down and twice on fourth down.
Quarterback Parker McKenzie was 7 of 9 on the series for 65 yards, making the winning throw on fourth-and-goal to Jamie Walker.
Landor, who completed 17 of 27 passes for 156 yards, moved the Lions to Abilene’s 35-yard line with a 27-yard completion to Briggs before throwing incomplete on the game’s final play.
The setback extended SLU’s losing streak to three games — the most since Roberts’ first season, and a stretch that includes five losses in the last six games.
“I don’t think anything’s been for a lack of effort,” Roberts said. “We just haven’t done the things you need to do to win. We’ve been in a lot of tight games that have been down to the wire. It’s not a talent thing.”
Roberts believes the opportunity to win the River Bell Classic trophy for the fourth straight year and send 27 seniors out victorious should help sharpen SLU’s level of focus.
“All we can do is to go out and try and win a ballgame,” Roberts said. “We have to move on. Our guys will play really hard. At the end of the day, we just have to make sure we have more points than they do.”
Roberts said senior running back Kody Sutton tore the MCL in his knee on his first carry last week and joins a list of other seniors such as Jeff Smiley, Xavier Roberson, Juwaan Rogers, T.J. West that have been lost because of injury. ... Senior cornerback Harlan Miller has been selected to participate in the Senior Bowl. ... Former Episcopal standout Chris Henry is the leading rusher for Nicholls with 178 carries for 687 yards and 6 TDs, ranking 10th in the Southland with 68.7 yards per game. ... Four LSU transfers will take part in the game with SLU’s Micah Eugene, Derrick Raymond, JQ Sandolph and Jonah Austin of Nicholls.