HAMMOND — When quarterback Bryan Bennett scored on a 22-yard run and Ryan Adams added the extra point for a 23-17 lead against Southeast Missouri last week, Southeastern Louisiana was just under three minutes away from a hard-fought road win.
Then the Lions defense took the field and never returned to the sideline.
Southeast Missouri put together an improbable 16-play drive that covered 80 yards and ended on a 2-yard touchdown pass with 4 seconds left, sending Southeastern to an excruciating 24-23 defeat and long bus ride home.
“There’s not a whole lot to say other than they beat us,” Southeastern coach Ron Roberts said Tuesday. “We got beat by a team that played really well. If you’re going to be good, you’ve got to win the close ones. You’ve got to find a way to get the job done.”
Instead of a boost of momentum entering Southland Conference play Saturday at Incarnate Word in San Antonio, SLU (2-2) is saddled with a two-game losing streak — which they overcame in time last year win the league championship and reach the FCS quarterfinals.
“Whether we win or lose, next week’s a new week, and we don’t think about last week and put it out of our heads,” SLU senior center Joe Graves said. “The result wasn’t what we wanted, but this week’s a new week. We have to go out and get after it against a new opponent.”
SLU appeared it would take a 10-7 lead into halftime when the Lions converted a trick play into a touchdown with 2:58 to go.
Holder Cole LeBlanc of Live Oak threw to a wide open Jeremy Meyers of St. Michael the Archangel, a senior tight end, for an 11-yard score out of field-goal formation.
It appeared as if Southeastern would keep that lead when free safety Josh Dankin intercepted quarterback Kyle Snyder at the Lions’ 1-yard line with a second still showing.
But the Lions were whistled for an offside penalty, giving the Redhawks another play, and they capitalized with a 54-yard field goal to tie the game at 10.
“I thought we had opportunities early to put the game away if we score a couple of times,” Roberts said. “They’re a good football team. They’re much improved and physical.”
SLU, which was penalized 11 penalties for 85 yards, kept another scoring opportunity alive for Southeast Missouri in the third quarter when a third-down stop for no gain was negated by another offside penalty.
Seven plays later, Snyder threw a 12-yard TD pass to make it 17-10 during a third quarter in which the Redhawks controlled the clock for 11 minutes, leaving SLU to run a total of 11 plays from scrimmage.
Southeastern seemingly regained its composure and the game’s momentum with a pair of touchdowns in less than a three-minute span of the fourth quarter for a six-point lead.
Bennett found wide receiver Jeff Smiley on a 4-yard TD pass, and following a failed two-point try, Denzel Thompson forced a fumble that Dakin recovered on Southeast Missouri’s first play on its next series, setting up the Lions’ go-ahead drive.
Inexplicably, though, SLU allowed Southeast Missouri to march down field to the game-winning score, converting four times on third down with the last three sequences all coming from 6 yards or longer.
The Lions couldn’t deter the Redhawks’ path with Snyder keeping for 15 yards on third-and-10 to the 7-yard line. After a timeout with 7 seconds to play, Snyder connected with Paul McRoberts on the 2-yard score.
“It’s our fault. We’ve got to get off the field on third down,” SLU linebacker Drew Misita, who had a team-high 13 tackles. “I think overall it’s a sense of urgency to get off the field and we’ve got to execute better. We’re going to practice that this week and we’ll bounce back.”
Roberts said junior defensive back Micah Eugene and sophomore defensive lineman Javari Nichols are both expected back after missing the Southeast Missouri game. ... SLU is the second highest penalized team in the conference behind Houston Baptist at 93 yards per game. … Senior safety Tyler Stoddard moved to ninth place on the school’s career tackle list (242) with 12 stops last week.