Nationally ranked Lions, Cowboys battle for Southland lead - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

Nationally ranked Lions, Cowboys battle for Southland lead

From SLU Athletics

HAMMOND – Sole possession of first place in the Southland Conference football standings is on the line when No. 25 Southeastern travels to No. 4/7 McNeese State for a 7 p.m. contest on Saturday in Cowboy Stadium.

The Lions (6-2, 3-0 Southland) and host Cowboys (7-1, 3-0 Southland) are the last two Southland teams standing with perfect league records. A win for Southeastern, which is making its first appearance in the national rankings since 2004, would not only solidify its placement among the nation's top 25, but more importantly put it in the pole position for a Southland Conference championship heading into the final three weeks of the season.

"We're going to Lake Charles to face a McNeese State team that we have a great deal of respect for," Southeastern head coach Ron Roberts said. "(McNeese) Coach Matt Viator has a tremendous team and an outstanding program. This will be a great challenge for our players and a good test to see where we are as a program."

The game will be broadcast on KSLU 90.9 FM, the flagship station of the Southeastern Sports Radio Network, as well as Northshore Broadcasting stations Kajun 107.1 FM and The Joint 104.7 FM. Fans can listen online at www.LionSports.net or on their smart phone using the TuneIn Radio app. LionVision subscribers can access a live video stream, provided by McNeese State, at LionSports.net. 

Southeastern extended its winning streak to five games – matching the program's longest since 1983 – with a 56-34 victory over Lamar. Louisiana Offensive Player of the Week Bryan Bennett threw for 237 yards and ran for 95 yards as the Lions racked up 566 total yards on the Southland's top-ranked defense.

Southeastern set a new season-high with 310 yards on the ground in the win over the Cardinals while matching its season-high with six rushing touchdowns. The sophomore running back quartet of Rasheed Harrell (2 TD), Xavier Roberson (2 TD), Kody Sutton and Darius Guy each found the end zone in the win that pushed the Lions to their best start since 1981.

After falling behind 14-0 in the first quarter, the Lions rolled off 42 unanswered points to pull away from Lamar. Southeastern was able to change momentum behind a defense that held strong after allowing the two early scores. Senior Cqulin Hubert led the Lions with eight tackles, while juniors Drew Misita, Isiah Corbett and Marquel Combs were all credited with sacks.

Senior Theo Alexander thwarted a possible Lamar scoring opportunity with his first interception of the season. The last three Cardinal touchdowns were scored well after the game had been decided.

Misita and senior Kevin Harmon share the team lead with 43 tackles, followed closed by Hubert (42) and Alexander (40) for a defense that allows 22.9 points and 395.8 yards per contest. Eleven different players have accounted for Southeastern's 19 sacks, led by Corbett's six. Junior Jacob Newman has also been a pass rushing force with four sacks and a team-high 10 tackles for loss.

On the back end, junior Marice Sutton leads the Southland with three interceptions. Both senior Todd Washington (eight) and sophomore Harlan Miller (seven) rank among the league leaders in pass break ups.

The Southeastern defense will face a tough task against an explosive MSU offense that is averaging 488.6 yards and 43.6 points per contest. Senior quarterback Cody Stroud has thrown for 1,890 yards and 18 touchdowns versus just two interceptions, connecting most often with junior Nic Jacobs (24 catches, 345 yards, 3 TD) and senior Diontae Spencer (22-421-5 TD). Senior tailback Marcus Wiltz leads the McNeese rushing attack with 894 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground.

Much like McNeese, Southeastern features an offense that is dangerous on the ground and in the air, averaging 38.2 points and 478.5 yards per game. Bennett has thrown for 1,712 yards and nine touchdowns, ranking among the national leaders with 15.2 yards per completion. Sophomore Jeff Smiley (34 catches, 434 yards, 4 TD), senior Tony McCrea (22-450-1 TD) and senior Marquis Fruge' (16-261-2 TD) have been Bennett's top targets.

Bennett also leads a potent Lion rushing attack with 533 yards and nine touchdowns – the sixth highest single-season rushing touchdown total in school history. Harrell (352 yards, 6 TD), Roberson (336-4 TD) and Kody Sutton (323 yards-5 TD) bolster the rushing attack for the Lions.

Southeastern will be facing off against a McNeese State defense that yields 25.6 points and 417.0 yards per outing. Senior Terence Cahee leads the Cowboys with 54 tackles, while junior Everett Ellefsen paces the squad with five sacks. Morgan shares the Southland lead with Lion Marice Sutton with three interceptions.

Both teams feature excellent special teams units. Southeastern senior Seth Sebastian has yet to miss on six field goal and 40 point after touchdown attempts this season, while Cowboy senior Ryan Rome is eight-for-10 on field goal tries. Roberson gives the Lions one of the nation's most explosive kick returners, averaging 37.8 yards per return, while the McNeese pairing of Spencer and freshman Khalil Thomas are both averaging 27 yards per return.

Southeastern is 16-22 all-time versus the Cowboys and has not won in Lake Charles since a 51-17 victory in 2004. The Lions snapped a six-game losing streak to McNeese last season with a comeback 25-24 win over the then-undefeated Cowboys, giving the Lions their first win of the Ron Roberts era.

Saturday's game is the first of three consecutive games against ranked opponents for the Lions. On Nov. 9, the Lions will head to Conway, Ark. for a 7 p.m. contest at No. 18/15 Central Arkansas. The game will be broadcast live on ESPN3. The game will also air on KSLU 90.9 FM, the flagship station of the Southeastern Sports Radio Network, as well as Northshore Broadcasting stations Kajun 107.1 FM and The Joint 104.7 FM. Fans can listen online at www.LionSports.net or on their smart phone using the TuneIn Radio app.

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