HAMMOND — When it comes to the Southeastern Louisiana football team, no lead is safe, especially against Lamar in Strawberry Stadium.
The Lions held a 24-13 lead over Lamar in the third quarter on Saturday.
But instead of milking that lead for a victory, Southeastern Louisiana’s leaky defense was torched by a speedy Lamar offense.
Lamar, playing its first Southland Conference football game since 1986, outscored Southeastern Louisiana 35-14 in the final 23 minutes and 30 seconds of the game to claim a 48-38 victory.
It was the second straight year Lamar (3-1, 1-0) rallied from a double-digit deficit to beat Southeastern Louisiana in Strawberry Stadium. Southeastern Louisiana blew a 28-8 third-quarter lead in a 29-28 loss to Lamar last year.
SLU lost despite gaining 489 yards in part because of five turnovers — three interceptions and two fumbles.
“I think I’m numb right now,” SLU coach Mike Lucas said.
The game exposed a big problem for Southeastern Louisiana — its defense. The Lions (1-4, 0-2) have allowed more than 45 points in each of their losses this season.
Lamar quarterback Andre Bevil completed 19 of 32 passes for 270 yards and four touchdowns and also rushed for 77 yards.
“I counted 10 times when we had him sacked and he pulls away from us,” Lucas said.
Lamar started its comeback when Bevil threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end Peyden McVey to make the score 24-20 and finish an 11-play, 80-yard drive. The Cardinals took a 27-24 lead when Bevil threw a lateral to running back Marcus Jackson, who threw a 62-yard touchdown pass to receiver J.J. Hayes, who was 15 yards behind the Southeastern secondary.
“It’s an execution game for us right now,” Lucas said.
Executing was what the SLU defense had trouble doing down the stretch.
Bevil increased Lamar’s lead to 34-24 with a 32-yard touchdown pass to receiver Mike Venson, who slipped behind the Lion defense and was wide open for a touchdown with 14:19 remaining in the game.
Lamar running back Octavious Logan powered his way up the middle for a 6-yard touchdown run to make the score 41-24 with 13:25 left.
Bevil finished Lamar’s scoring with a 29-yard touchdown pass to Jackson, making it 48-31 with 8:14 remaining.
“Just us as a defense, we have to get better,” SLU junior defensive back Robert Alford said.
It all made for a happy return to the Southland Conference for Lamar, which last played a league game when it lost at McNeese State 38-7 on Nov. 22, 1986. The Cardinals were once a conference power, winning conference championships in 1964 and 1965 and shared league titles in 1966 and 1971.
The game marked the first conference win for Lamar since a 10-6 victory against North Texas on Sept. 15, 1984. The Lamar program was disbanded in 1989 and was restarted in 2010.
Meanwhile, Southeastern Louisiana has three-game losing streak and an eight-game conference losing streak since a 49-28 victory against Texas State on Oct. 9, 2010.
The Lions don’t play again until Oct. 15 at Northwestern State in another Southland Conference game.
Southeastern Louisiana started the game fast and took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter when running back Sam Fairley sped through the middle of the Lamar defense for a 26-yard touchdown run.
Lamar cut the score to 7-6 in the first quarter when Bevil rolled right and threw a 44-yard touchdown pass to Jackson, who was wide open in the middle of the Southeastern Louisiana secondary and ran 25 yards through the middle of the field to finish the play. SLU junior Tay Alford blocked the extra-point kick by Justin Stout.
The Cardinals led 13-7 when they drove 93 yards on 11 plays for a touchdown. Logan ended the possession with a 4-yard run up the middle with 11:55 remaining in the first half.
But Southeastern Louisiana came back to take a 14-13 lead when quarterback Brian Young threw a 51-yard touchdown pass to receiver Brandon Collins on the first play of the ensuing possession.
The Lions increased their lead to 17-13 when Seth Sebastian hit a 40-yard field goal with 10:27 remaining.
Southeastern Louisiana led 17-13 at halftime, but went to the lockerroom with the knowledge that it could have scored more points.
The Lions had one drive inside the Lamar 20-yard line and one drive inside the Cardinals’ 5-yard line end on fumbles. The Lions had six possessions inside the Lamar 50-yard line in the first half.
“We should have had 40 points at halftime,” Lucas said.
Southeastern Louisiana increased its lead to 24-13 in the third quarter when running back LaTruan Weary ran up the middle and down the sidelines for a 38-yard touchdown run.
Then came the Lamar comeback.