THIBODAUX — For the second consecutive season, Southeastern Louisiana players hoisted the Southland Conference championship trophy over their heads.
This time around, though, coach Ron Roberts went skyward with the hardware, as his players put him on their shoulders in celebration.
Roberts immediately demanded to get down, but it didn’t matter. For the second consecutive year, his program claimed at least a share of the championship.
“I actually think this (championship) was actually a little harder (than last year),” Roberts said when he finally came down. “We knew that coming in that we would have a target on our backs and everyone has you circled on their schedule, and I thought our guys really worked our tails off for this one.”
It wasn’t all smooth sailing, though. The Lions got out to a slow start against winless Nicholls on Thursday night, trailing for the majority of the first quarter before receiver Devante Scott took a short pass from quarterback Bryan Bennett 77 yards for a score.
From then on, Southeastern maintained control, cruising to a 62-3 win.
It gave the Colonels their first winless season since 1995. It also gave the Lions at least a piece of the title. They will watch the other Southland teams play Saturday to learn whether the trophy is theirs alone.
Thursday night, the primary factor of the Lions’ early troubles came from the most unlikely of places, as Bennett — often the best player on the field for Southeastern — had one of the worst games of his career.
Not including the long touchdown pass, in which Scott did most of the heavy lifting, Bennett went 1-for-7 for just 4 yards. He was pulled in the second quarter in favor of backup Jordan Barnett.
After the game, Roberts said Bennett’s foot was still bothering him from the Lions’ game against Houston Baptist two weeks ago.
“It’s the same thing he had last week,” Roberts said. “He’d been in a boot all week. We just came out here looking to see if he could go, but it hurt him to even throw on the thing. It was just better off for us to pull him out and let him rest.”
Barnett fared better against the Nicholls defense, as he led the Lions to a touchdown on his first drive of the game. Running back Rasheed Harrell punched it in from 3 yards out halfway through the second quarter.
Barnett was 12-for-19 for 193 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for 55 yards and another touchdown.
“When he goes down, that’s my job — to back him up,” Barnett said. “I have to be ready. I’m always one play away from going in. Whenever my number is called, I’m ready to go in.”
The floodgates opened in the second half when the Lions easily put together several successful drives — thanks in part to the career performance Scott put together.
Scott finished the night with 196 yards on seven receptions, both career highs for the Ferriday native.
“It’s just a blessing,” Scott said. “Any time your number is called, you just have to answer it. And I answered it.”
Defensively, the Lions held strong the whole night, keeping the Colonels to 279 yards of total offense. The defense consistently tightened up in the red zone, forcing two turnovers on downs from within the 20-yard line. The only crack came on the first drive when the Colonels got a 33-yard field goal.
One of the lone bright spots of the game for Nicholls came when running back and former Episcopal High School standout Michael Henry became just the third player in school history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season. He finished the night with 124 yards, giving him 1,011 yards for the year.
The loss to Southeastern capped one of the worst seasons in Nicholls history.
Nicholls will be hit the reset button Friday when it announces its new coach.
Several reports have UL-Lafayette defensive backs coach and former Destrehan High School coach Tim Rebowe as the probable choice.
Nicholls’ official announcement will be at 11 a.m. Friday at the Harold J. Callais Memorial Recreation Center.