HUNTSVILLE, Texas — Holding on to a three-point lead with less than 10 minutes left against Sam Houston State on Saturday, Southeastern’s offense jumped offside on fourth-and-1 from the Bearkats’ 24-yard line. It was the sixth false start penalty of the day for the Lions, and it proved to be the most costly.

Southeastern took its offense off the field to attempt a long field goal, which was blocked. Seven plays later, Sam Houston State took the lead and never looked back, ending SLU’s season with a 21-17 loss in the first round of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs at Bowers Stadium.

Despite outgaining the Bearkats and winning the turnover battle 4-1, penalties at key times kept the Southeastern offense in neutral most of the day.

“Our guys played tough, but we obviously shot ourselves in the foot with some really big mistakes,” coach Ron Roberts said. “It stalls your momentum and any kind of rhythm you have offensively. I don’t know why it happened.”

The defense kept SLU in the game, holding the Bearkats scoreless midway through the third quarter. Three rushing touchdowns in the final 22 minutes made the difference.

Sam Houston State’s Donavan Williams scored twice, and Jalen Overstreet ran for a third touchdown. Both were playing after starting senior tailback Keshawn Hill went down with a head injury on the opening kickoff.

“It wasn’t a talent win but a character win for us,” Sam Houston State coach K.C. Keeler said. “The kids rallied after halftime, and we played some really good football.”

The Bearkats, who shared the Southland Conference regular-season title with the Lions, move on to face No. 3 seed Jacksonville State next Saturday.

SLU quarterback Bryan Bennett, the Southland Offensive Player of the Year, was held to 181 passing yards and just 14 yards on the ground. He scored both of SLU’s touchdowns on the ground, tying the school record with 31 rushing touchdowns. But the Lions were held to just 2.6 yards per run on 48 rushes.

For three quarters, it looked like defense and special teams would be enough for SLU.

Tyler Stoddard recovered a fumble on the opening kickoff that led to an early 3-0 lead, and he added an interception in the second half. Micah Eugene made a big stop on fourth-and-goal from the 1 and added an interception to stall another Sam Houston State drive just before halftime.

“It doesn’t matter if you get 10 turnovers to 0; if you don’t win the ballgame, it wasn’t enough,” Stoddard said. “We came out good, but we just didn’t have the same intensity in the second half. They got some momentum and, after they scored one, I think we started lagging a bit.”

After giving up 14 points, the Lions regained the lead on Bennett’s second rushing touchdown and were set to add more, sitting in Bearkats territory on fourth-and-1.

The false-start penalty set up the block by Sam Houston State’s P.J. Hall, shifting momentum — and eventually the score — in the Bearkats’ favor.

“That was huge,” Roberts said. “We are going for it. It was an opportunity to put seven points on the board. We had the heavy package in and we felt pretty good about it, but we get a jump and then we have to kick the field goal and it gets blocked. That was a huge turn of events right there.”

Sam Houston State took full advantage, driving 65 yards in seven plays. Another Williams touchdown — this one from 5 yards — gave the Bearkats their final lead with 7:10 left.

Southeastern had three more drives for a comeback but could never get past midfield.

“We had a couple things that set us back — incompletions and false starts,” Bennett said. “It’s unfortunate. We didn’t want our last outing to end like that.”