HAMMOND — Southeastern Louisiana freshman running backs Xavier Roberson and Rasheed Harrell both topped 100 yards as the Lions scored 22 unanswered points on the way to closing its home schedule with a 42-27 Southland Conference win over Stephen F. Austin on Saturday night at Strawberry Stadium.
On a night that saw the Lions (4-6, 4-2 Southland) say goodbye to 16 seniors, it was two future stars of the program who shined. Harrell (20 carries, 151 yards, one touchdown) and Roberson (21 carries, 117 yards, two touchdowns) helped Southeastern secure its first winning record in league play since 2009 with the win over Stephen F. Austin (4-6, 3-3 Southland).
“This was a great win for our program,” Southeastern football coach Ron Roberts said. “Stephen F. Austin has a tremendous offense and we were able to make adjustments to slow them down in the second half. I was really proud of the effort by our two freshman running backs. They are going to be special over the next three years.”
Senior quarterback Nathan Stanley was efficient in his final home contest, completing 13 of 20 passes for 188 yards and a touchdown pass to sophomore tight end Jeremy Meyers. Stanley completed his 13 passes to eight receivers.
The Lion defense harassed SFA quarterbacks Joe Minden and Brady Attaway into three interceptions as the Lion defense forced four turnovers. Senior Robert Alford, sophomore Kaleb Muse and sophomore Tyler Stoddard each had interceptions for the Lions, while senior Devan Walker forced a fumble that was recovered by senior Mairo Stovall. Running back Gus Johnson accounted for all of SFA’s scoring, finishing with 20 carries for 124 yards and four touchdowns.
Southeastern also had a big day on special teams. Junior receiver Tony McCrea returned a punt for a 54-yard score and Roberson recorded a 96-yard kickoff return for a score. Roberson’s return was the fifth-longest in school history and the first by a Lion since Ray Perkins ran one back versus Mississippi Valley State in 2004.
Southeastern took a 14-0 lead midway through the first quarter, as Roberson capped the opening drive with a 30-yard scoring run. After a three and out by the Lumberjacks, McCrea ripped off a 54-yard return down the left sideline to give Southeastern an early advantage.
SFA’s defense stiffened and helped the Lumberjacks retake the lead in the second quarter. Touchdown runs of 13, 4 and 19 yards by Johnson put SFA up, 21-14, with 1:05 left in the half.
However, on the ensuing kickoff, Roberson exploded through a hole and outran SFA on the way to the 96-yard return. Though junior Seth Sebastian had his extra-point blocked, Southeastern went into halftime with momentum and trailing 21-20.
SFA extended its lead to 27-20 with 9:31 remaining in the third quarter as Johnson scored from 11 yards out. Southeastern answered with a six-play, 77-yard drive as Stanley found Meyers, who powered in from 26 yards out to tie the score at 27 with 7:05 left.
After the Lions stopped SFA on the ensuing possession, they decided to ride their two freshman backs. Harrell and Roberson accounted for all 85 yards on six carries, as Harrell capped the drive with a 28-yard scoring run, eluding several tackles on the way to the end zone. On the extra point, senior punter Beau Mothe connected with senior long snapper Rogers Mueller to convert the two-point try and give the Lions a 35-27 lead with 2:58 left in the third quarter.
To start the fourth quarter, Stephen F. Austin marched deep into Lion territory, but Alford stopped the scoring opportunity with a leaping interception. Southeastern then put the game away with a methodical 12-play, 87-yard scoring march that took over six minutes off the clock. By the time Roberson capped the drive with an 8-yard scamper, the Lions had a two-possession lead with 6:45 remaining.
The 42-27 lead held, as SFA went three-and-out on the next drive. On the last drive, Walker sacked Attaway to force a fumble. Stovall’s recovery with 42 seconds left iced the game.