HAMMOND — The homecoming game was looking like a cruise for Southeastern Louisiana. It nearly wound up like the Poseiden Adventure.
The Lions squandered a 28-0 lead but twice rallied from behind in the fourth quarter to pull out a wild 62-52 victory against Southland Conference foe Houston Baptist at Strawberry Stadium Saturday.
“Homecoming, we gave the fans some excitement tonight,” SLU coach Frank Scelfo said. “It’s not what we wanted in all aspects, but the resiliency of our football team ... we compete all the way to the end of the game.”
Chason Virgil’s 15-yard touchdown pass to C.J. Turner with 40 seconds remaining accounted for the final go-ahead score. The Lions later sealed it when John Miller sacked Huskies quarterback Bailey Zappe. Xavier Lewis picked up the ball and ran 38 yards for their third defensive touchdown.
The Lions (3-4, 3-2 in SLC) looked finished when Zappe’s 8-yard scoring pass to Jerreth Sterns gave the visitors a 52-48 lead with 5:16 remaining and Southeastern went three-and-out on the next possession. But the Lions defense held and forced a punt with 1:26 left that Devonte Williams returned 49 yards to the Houston Baptist 25.
Five plays later, Virgil hit Turner and he broke two tackles while tight-roping down the sideline for the score.
“I was reading the cornerback,” Virgil said. “If he sinks, I hit C.J., if he comes up I think we had Lorenzo (Nunez) running a corner route. He sank. I threw it to C.J. and he was able to make a great play.”
The game was a jumble of momentum changes, big plays and atypical play by both teams. The Huskies (1-5, 0-4) had two defensive touchdowns, making the game total five.
Virgil, the SLC’s leading passer with 306 yards per game, threw for 240 yards, one TD and a pick-six, but the running game picked up the slack. Darren Johnson rushed for 127 yards and one score on 21 carries, and Julius Maracalin added 69 yards on 14 carries. Turner had four receptions for 92 yards and his key touchdown.
SLU entered the game averaging 104 yards per game and had season highs of 46 carries for 184 yards.
“Running the ball is our plan every week,” Scelfo said. “We’ve been getting away from it a little bit sooner than we wanted. Tonight our offensive line did a much better job, instead of pushing we engaged and attacked.”
The Lions defensive performance was a mixed bag. They sacked Zappe three times and had the three scores but struggled with the up-tempo offense, allowing 512 yards. Zappe completed 29 of 46 passes for 342 yards and three touchdowns. LaDarius Dickens, a backup who entered the game with 64 yards for the season, rushed for 97 and a touchdown on 16 carries. It was the Huskies fifth straight loss.
“When you go up tempo, you get guys out of position,” Scelfo said. “We had some breakdowns, mental errors. When those things happen, big plays take place. That’s the fastest pace team we face and they do a good job at it.”