HAMMOND - The records for both teams may not indicate it, but for the coaches involved, there’s a lot riding on the outcome of Thursday’s River Bell Classic football game.
Southeastern Louisiana University hosts Nicholls State at 7 p.m. at Strawberry Stadium in the season finale for both teams. The game will be broadcast on CST and ESPN3.
“Everybody needs a win,” SLU coach Mike Lucas said. “I need a win. (Lucas’ wife) Wendy needs a win. Mr. Anzalone, who mows the grass, needs a win. (SLU President) Dr. (John) Crain needs a win. Going into the offseason program, if it ends with an ?L’, you’ve got a sour stomach for nine months.
“We’ll play hard. We take care of the football, I think we’ll be OK.”
The Colonels (1-9, 0-6 Southland Conference) have lost nine straight games but have two straight wins over SLU (2-8, 0-6), including a 27-25 victory last season.
“Neither one of us were able to achieve the goals we wanted to achieve, so now it’s become one of those pride games where you just want to see who wants to finish their season off on a positive note, and that’s what we plan on doing,” Nicholls coach Charlie Stubbs said.
Nicholls, which is coming off a 34-26 loss to Lamar, ranks last in the Southland Conference in scoring offense (18.4 points per game) and total offense (270.5 yards per game).
But Lucas knows from experience the Colonels are more than capable of scoring as long as Colonels quarterback LaQuintin Caston is around. Caston, a former Scotlandville standout, ranks eighth in the SLC in total offense (145.3 ypg.). Caston, who rushed for 139 yards and three touchdowns against the Lions last season, leads Nicholls in rushing (156-613, 5 TDs) and passing (81-159-8, 695 yards, 8 TDs).
“There are not many times when you put everybody’s tendencies on the board and the No. 1 running play is the quarterback draw, and that’s what it is,” Lucas said. “They’re going to snap the ball to Caston (and) go. We’ve got to surround him.”
Caston’s top targets in the passing game are running back Marcus Washington (23-170, 2 TDs), Kenyad Blair (22-219, TD) and tight end Nick Scelfo (14-172, TD).
“Coach Stubbs does a good job recognizing if you’re in man or zone by formation, what your formation tendencies are,” Lucas said. “And then he’s got ways to attack it. We’ve got to mix our coverages so he can’t get in a groove with what we’re doing.”
The Colonels will square off against an SLU team ranked last in the Southland in total defense (443.9 ypg.). SLU safety Tyler Stoddard and linebacker Tay Alford are tied for seventh in the conference in total tackles with 79, while linebacker Ricky Irvin has 77 total tackles.
And while Stubbs complimented the SLU defense, he said injuries on the offensive line have limited the Colonels.
“They’re a solid defense, but we have to kind of look into our situation,” Stubbs said. “We’re so thin up front right now, that I have to call a game according to what we’re able to execute.”
Meanwhile, the SLU ranks fourth in the league in total offense (402.7 ypg), and quarterback Brian Young (223-384-15, 2,628 yards, 13 TDs) is third in the SLC in passing average per game (262.8 ypg) and total offense (266.3 ypg).
“They’ve got an explosive offense, and we know that,” Stubbs said. “I guess the best defense is for us to be out on the field (winning) time of possession, and just ultimately, striving to finish drives.”
SLU’s Simmie Yarborough is third in the league in receptions per game (5.8), and teammates Brandon Collins (5.7) and Kory Theodore (5.2) are fourth and fifth, respectively.
“I noticed them last year when we played them, how gifted they are,” Stubbs said of the SLU receiving corps. “It’s going to cause us some problems. The biggest thing we’ve got to do, though, is not let the quarterback get comfortable. But also, when the ball’s up, we’ve got to go get it.”
Turnovers have been a problem for both teams this season as Nicholls (minus-9) is seventh in the SLC in turnover margin, while SLU (minus-16) is eighth.
The Lions will tangle with a Nicholls team ranked fourth in the Southland in total defense (356.3 ypg), led by linebacker Jordan Piper, a former Ponchatoula standout, who has 71 total tackles. Cornerback Bobby Felder adds five interceptions on the season.
“They’ll do a lot of different things out of the 3-5 (defense),” Lucas said. “One thing I love about the 3-5 is that you’ve got five different people that can blitz and you bring all those different combinations. And each week, they’ll dial up some new things. I don’t want to say it’s the flavor of the week, but basically every week, it changes.
“That’s part of the thing that makes it tough because it’s hard to prepare for. You don’t know what you’re going to get.”
But Lucas said the Lions will be looking to establish a run game against the Colonels. The Lions are last in the SLC in rushing offense (108.4 yards per game) and played without leading rusher Sam Fairley (separated shoulder) in last week’s 28-20 loss to Stephen F. Austin. SLU, however, got a boost last week with the return of former Springfield standout Zeke Jones, who rushed for 79 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries.
“They’re going to line up in there with three linemen and try to play coverage, we’ve got to be able to run the football against that front,” Lucas said.