Southland leaders collide when Southeastern Louisiana visits McNeese State _lowres

Southeastern Louisiana University running back Xavier Roberson looks for a path upfield as Florida Tech defenders close the holes Saturday at Strawberry Stadium in Hammond. (Photo by Randy Bergeron/SLU Public Info)

HAMMOND — The rushing attack that produced more than 400 yards last week was missing most of the night, but Southeastern Louisiana got help from its defense.

Sparked by three defensive touchdowns, Southeastern overcame a halftime deficit to turn back feisty Florida Tech 28-17 Saturday at Strawberry Stadium.

Demarayeh Lane provided the backbreaker, stepping in front of a pass and returning it 58 yards for a touchdown. The score, with 11:49 left to play, gave SLU a 28-17 lead and much-needed breathing room.

“We prepared for that play all week,” Lane said. “We got a tip that the receiver would chop (his hands) when he would go for that screen. I seen it and broke on the ball.”

“I knew the quarterback would throw it there, and I took it to the house.”

Much of Southeastern’s 220 yard rushing total came in the fourth quarter. The Lions came into the game wanting to establish the pass but had to adjust when starting quarterback D’Shaie Landor left with a sprained knee after the second series.

“I was very surprised they were able to slow us down running the football,” Southeastern coach Ron Roberts said. “Of course, our running game changed (when Landor left). We couldn’t check as much at the line. It’s a cerebral offense, and we want to make sure we get the right looks.”

Florida Tech threw for 426 yards and picked up 300 first downs, but the Panthers turned the ball over in bunches. All totaled Southeastern recovered four fumbles and intercepted nine passes.

Two of the fumbles were returned for scores, along with Lane’s touchdown. Southeastern’s offensive score came at the end of a 13-play, 77-yard drive. Xavier Roberson’s 2-yard run put the Lions up for good 21-17 early in the fourth quarter.

Florida Tech had four turnovers in the first quarter alone, but it didn’t keep the Panthers down. The Florida Tech defense kept Southeastern on the ropes the entire half, and the Lions needed two fumble returns for touchdowns to stay within 17-14.

The first fumble return came with 10:24 left in the first quarter when a center snap went over the head of quarterback Sean Ashley at the Florida Tech 20. After a scramble, defensive end Solomon Parker scooped up the ball and rumbled 7 yards to the end zone.

The second return came with 5:44 to go in the first after a snap went through Ashley’s hands at the SLU 31. Nose guard Ashton Henderson grabbed the loose ball, and showed good speed as he ran 45 yards for the score.

SLU led 14-0 despite its offense having yet to produce a first down. It was costly in the early going as the Lions were unable to convert a pair of interceptions in Florida Tech territory into points.

Still in the first quarter, Florida Tech cut into the deficit with a 44-yard field goal by Drake Hillman. The Panthers forced a punt and added a touchdown before the quarter ended. As Ashley found Kenny Johnston for a 59-yard catch-and-run, making it 14-10 after one.

Southeastern’s offense continued to struggle and picked up just two first downs in the second quarter.

Florida Tech put together an eight-play, 85-yard drive for the go-ahead touchdown — a 1-yard run by Josh Denton. Florida Tech got help from an SLU pass interference call, and an illegal substitution penalty after the Lions recovered a fumble.