HAMMOND — Southeastern Louisiana offensive tackle Pierson Villarubia said it equated to the first defining moment for this year’s team.
With a championship tradition being established under coach Ron Roberts, the Lions have penned several signature moments on their way to the past two Southland Conference championships.
Whether No. 17 Southeastern goes on to win a third straight crown remains to be seen, but the dramatic conclusion to Thursday’s 30-27 victory over Lamar kept such aspirations alive.
“For this program we’ve been dominant the prior two years, but this is a different team,” said Villarubia, a Mandeville native and Washington State transfer. “There are still guys who have been here at least three years, but that was a moment the 2015 team needed to grow up. It was a maturing moment.”
Kody Sutton’s 1-yard touchdown run with 1:25 to play on fourth down, coupled with a final defensive stand, enabled SLU (3-1, 2-0 in SLC) to retain a share of the Southland’s lead going into Saturday’s 6 p.m. showdown at No. 13 McNeese State (4-0, 3-0).
“We felt like last week was a huge win for us,” Roberts said during Tuesday’s news luncheon. “We got in a tight ball game. I think the fashion that we did it in will give us a lot of confidence, especially offensively.”
SLU rallied from a 14-13 halftime deficit and trailed 24-16 midway through the third quarter.
“The coaches said to be ready for adversity,” said senior linebacker Dereck Robinson of Destrehan. “It was a tight game and we knew we had to go stop them. The whole season we’ve been doing great as a defense.”
That set the stage SLU’s test-of-wills final drive, beginning at its own 21-yard line, a series in which the Lions twice converted on third down and twice on fourth down.
Quarterback D’Shaie Landor, who enjoyed a career-best 283-yard passing night, ignited the drive with a perfectly thrown pass to Brandon Acker in front of SLU’s sideline for 41 yards to Lamar’s 28-yard line with 5:30 to play.
“I thought he played really well,” Roberts said of Landor. “He threw the ball on time and threw it with confidence.”
SLU kept the ball on the ground 15 of the 17 plays, including the final 11 in which the Lions utilized five different runners to reach Lamar’s 1 with 1:25 remaining.
Following a timeout by the Cardinals, Landor handed it to Sutton, who scored with 1:19 left.
“We watched the defense play their hearts out to give us another chance,” Sutton said. “We go against our defense, which we feel is one of the best in the nation in practice in a one-minute drill. We felt if every man did their job, we would succeed.”
Lamar had one final opportunity, and with a first down reached its own 37. SLU then forced three straight incompletions, when defensive end Solomon Parker dropped wideout Reggie Begelton after a 4-yard gain on fourth-and-10 with 45 seconds left.
“The first few weeks, we were kind of relying on our past dominance,” Villarubia said. “But we hadn’t had our own moment where we were held to the fire and tested ourselves. That’s why it so was huge.”