HAMMOND — It took Southeastern Louisiana quarterback Bryan Bennett and the Lions most of the game to find their rhythm, but once they did, Southern Utah had no answer for them.
No. 3 Southeastern defeated the Thunderbirds 41-14 Saturday night at Strawberry Stadium after the Lions pounded Southern Utah for 21 points in the final 11 minutes.
Bennett had one of his worst outings of his career for 50 minutes, recording just 182 total yards and a lone passing touchdown through three quarters, but after leading the Lions on a 98-yard touchdown drive with a little more than five minutes to go in the game, launched his final numbers to 294 total yards and three scores.
The long drive was set up by a tough goal-line stand by the Lions defense and capped off when Bennett found senior wide receiver Chris Mallot deep down the left sideline for a 33-yard touchdown.
Bennett said he didn’t feel like himself at the start of the game and thinks that was the reason for the slow start on offense.
“We started off not where we needed to be offensively,” Bennett said. “Personally, I felt a little inaccurate for a couple of balls, kind of not myself. … It was just one of those nights where it just wasn’t fully on.”
Southern Utah’s game plan for Bennett was evident from the opening kickoff as the Thunderbirds kept a linebacker spying on him for the vast majority of the game.
Southern Utah kept the spy in rotation, but junior defensive end James Cowser was the most effective, racking up 11 total tackles, including 3.5 for a loss and a sack.
“It was kind of, if it wasn’t one thing, it was another,” Bennett said. “That’s why it’s a team game, because it doesn’t work unless everyone is functioning on the same level. I’ll take that on me to make sure I don’t put us in any situation where I’m going to make a mistake.”
Bennett was able to bust through the Southern Utah defense at times throughout the game. He connected with senior wide receiver Devante Scott for a 38-yard touchdown pass in the final minute of the first half and then in the fourth quarter, Bennett broke free for a 1-yard touchdown run after being stuffed the previous two plays.
The score was Scott’s first career receiving touchdown.
Southeastern coach Ron Roberts was able to find some other options on offense while Bennett was occupied all night. Six different players not named Bennett combined for 165 yards rushing on the night, led by junior Xavier Roberson with 60 yards on five carries. Bennett led all rushers with 70 yards on 18 carries.
“I think, for one, we kind of wore them down,” Roberts said. “We played a lot of guys. You especially saw a lot of guys dropping from injuries. I think they got tired and that’s traditionally what we’ve done — we make a big splash in the third and fourth quarters.”
The Lions opened the game in a big way as well, when linebacker Drew Misita returned an interception for a touchdown on the first play of the game. Misita found himself in the end zone just 13 seconds into the game, giving Southeastern a lead they never relinquished.
“That play, we knew they were going to run it, we just didn’t know they would run it the first play,” Misita said. “I was where I was supposed to be and I executed. (The coaches) knew it was coming and they put me in the spot.”