If a shared Southland Conference title left anyone with questions about whom the best team was, they’ll get an answer Saturday when co-champions Southeastern and Sam Houston State face off in the first round of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
The announcement came Sunday morning as the Lions watched the selection show on the big screen in Strawberry Stadium. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. on Saturday as Southeastern (9-3, 7-1) travels to Huntsville, Texas, for an impromptu conference championship game of sorts between the Southland’s top two programs.
“I think we’re in a good side of the bracket,” Southeastern coach Ron Roberts said. “At least we don’t have to go anywhere cold until you get to the quarterfinals or semifinals. I’m real excited about playing Sam (Houston State).”
Southeastern quarterback Bryan Bennett said the team isn’t as concerned with who they play as much as they are about simply getting in the playoffs.
The senior transfer from Oregon hoped the Lions would earn a higher seeding but is excited for the challenge Sam Houston (8-4, 7-1) presents.
“Obviously we were hoping to get a little higher up in there, but we’re happy to just be in these playoffs,” Bennett said. “And that’s the thing, you get in and you have an opportunity to go all the way.”
Roberts took a more direct approach to his program’s postseason position, saying he was disappointed Southeastern, ranked 10th in last week’s FCS Coaches Poll and No. 11 in the Sports Network FCS Poll released Sunday, hadn’t earned a home game for at least the first round.
“I was a little shocked,” Roberts said. “I thought if we didn’t get the first-round bye, we would’ve at least had the first game at home.
“We’re the highest ranked team out of the top 8, so my God, I don’t know how we didn’t get a home game.”
This will be the first meeting between the conference rivals this season, but the second consecutive season in which the pair will meet in the playoffs. Southeastern defeated the Bearkats twice last season, including a 30-29 postseason win at home.
But with new head coach K.C. Keeler taking the reigns, Roberts isn’t sure what to expect just yet from Sam Houston.
“They aren’t the same team. They don’t run the same offense. They’re completely different when you watch them on film,” Roberts said. ”They’re a completely different football team, but they’re a very talented football team.”
One of the biggest questions heading into the matchup will be the health of Bennett’s foot, after he suffered a mid-foot sprain against Houston Baptist.
Bennett left Southeastern’s season finale against Nicholls State early on Thursday night, but Roberts said it was only precautionary and Bennett could have returned to the game if the Lions needed him to.
“I’m getting better day by day,” Bennett said. “I’m just going to keep working on it, and I’ll be good to go.”
Roberts said Bennett will definitely play on Saturday against Sam Houston State. The only question is if he’ll be back to 100 percent by game time.
The winner of Saturday’s game will travel to No. 3 Jacksonville State in the second round. New Hampshire earned the No. 1 overall seed, while three-time defending FCS champion North Dakota State garnered the No. 2 spot.
Southeastern will have tickets for the game for sale on Wednesday.
Tickets will be $17 and will be in Section N. Southeastern season ticket holders will have priority and can purchase tickets from 8 a.m.-noon Wednesday at the Southeastern athletics ticket office on the corner of W. Dakota and Galloway Drive. From noon-5 p.m., tickets will be available to the public. No phone orders will be taken, and Wednesday is the only day tickets will be available through Southeastern.
Fans can purchase tickets now through the Sam Houston State ticket office.