Lions’ leader Bryan Bennett shows toughness through injuries _lowres

Photo by Randy Bergeron/SLU Public Information Southeastern Louisiana quarterback Bryan Bennett on playing in the Senior Bowl: 'I had a little extra bounce in my step today. But I didn’t feel like I had to calm myself down.'

Southeastern quarterback Bryan Bennett couldn’t let his final regular-season home game as a Lion pass without at least a little drama.

After a 34-minute scoring drought for Southeastern in which Bennett went 5-for-11 for 71 yards, Bennett went off for a pair of touchdowns and 73 yards in the final 11 minutes of the game to put the Lions one step closer to their second consecutive Southland Conference championship with a 28-9 win against McNeese State on Saturday at Strawberry Stadium.

“This is a great rivalry — it really is,” Southeastern coach Ron Roberts said. “Every thing gets kicked up a notch, and our guys answered the bell. It’s a huge win for us.”

The Lions (8-3, 6-1) travel to Nicholls State on Thursday for a shot at the Southland Conference title. They’re currently tied with Sam Houston State for first in the conference.

Bennett broke loose with a 28-yard strike to receiver Jeff Smiley for a touchdown. It was the second score of the game for the duo.

Smiley’s 18-yard TD catch from Bennett put the Lions up 14-0 in the first quarter after Trey Hallman caught an 8-yard strike to open the scoring.

Bennett capped the scoring when he connected with Devante Scott on a 55-yard strike down the middle.

Bennett finished the game going 10-for-18 for 185 yards, tying his career high of four scores through the air in the process. Smiley also tied his career high with two scoring receptions while finishing with 60 yards on three catches.

“It was one of those games, a rivalry game,” Bennett said. “To come out on top and for it to be senior night, it’s definitely a good feeling. I’m just happy we were able to come out and get a good team win.”

Bennett said his injured foot slowed him down a little bit Saturday, especially considering he was on limited practice during the week, but mainly it was the high pressure he received from the McNeese defense that gave the Lions fits for almost half of the game. Bennett suffered the injury last week against Houston Baptist and it kept him out of the final three quarters.

During the dry spell, Roberts opted to run the ball right at the Southland’s top-ranked run defense — a move he admitted was ineffective for most of the game. Southeastern finished the game averaging 2.9 yards per attempt on the ground after carrying the ball 45 times against the Cowboys.

Bennett led the Lions with 41 yards rushing, while running backs Kody Sutton and Rasheed Harrell combined for 53 yards on 28 attempts.

“They weren’t giving a whole lot inside,” Roberts said with a sigh of relief. “They were pretty tough inside and squeezed the heck out of everything, but we knew we had to keep pounding the ball and doing that.”

While the offense was struggling to get the ball moving, linebacker Drew Misita and the defense were prepared for possibly their most physical game of the season.

McNeese (6-4, 4-3) produced 311 yards of total offense but failed to turn much of that into points. The only crack in the Southeastern armor came at the start of the second quarter when McNeese quarterback Tyler Bolfing found wide receiver Khalil Thomas on an 26-yard pass down the left sideline for a score.

“We knew it was going to be a physical game — it was last year,” Misita said. “Coach (SLU defensive coordinator Karl) Scott said all week ‘It’s on us to stop the run.’ I thought we did pretty good job of doing that throughout the game.”