HAMMOND – Another week, another one-point game for the Southeastern Louisiana football team.
Only this time, the Lions came out on the positive end of the outcome. Because of that, they’re moving on in the FCS playoffs.
Chason Virgil’s 8-yard touchdown pass to CJ Turner on fourth down, coupled with Bryce Broussard’s PAT, helped give the Lions a 45-44 win over Villanova in a first-round FCS playoff game Saturday at Strawberry Stadium.
“We were due for this,” Southeastern defensive lineman Issac Adeyemi-Berglund said after the Lions trailed by 17 at halftime. “We work so hard, and it’s just so awesome to see everything come together. To see Bryce have the night that he had tonight (6-for-6 on PATs, one field goal), and the offense and the defense all come together is just beautiful.”
Southeastern (8-4) travel to face No. 6 seed Montana next week.
After Broussard’s 25-yard field goal tied the score at 31 with 1:29 to play in the third quarter, Villanova grabbed the lead again when Daniel Smith found Todd Summers on a 1-yard TD pass, which was set up by a 42-yard connection between the pair two plays earlier.
Virgil lost a fumble on the first play of the next drive, but the Wildcats turned the ball over on downs, setting up another tying score from the Lions when Virgil found Javon Conner on a 4-yard TD pass to cap an 11-play, 65-yard drive to knot the game at 38-38.
Villanova (9-4) answered with Smith hitting Changa Hodge on a 50-yard TD pass, giving the Wildcats a 44-38 lead after Drew Kresge’s PAT failed.
“The guy’s going to make a big play, and he made one,” Southeastern coach Frank Scelfo said of Hodge, who finished with six catches for 98 yards and a touchdown. “But he made one. We said we were going to try to limit his ability to take over the game, and I thought we did a great job of that.”
Southeastern responded when Virgil hit Turner for 51 yards to the Villanova 11 on the second play of the ensuing drive, setting up the game-winning touchdown catch three plays later with 2:56 remaining in the game.
“I trusted the play call (SLU offensive coordinator) coach (Greg) Stevens gave me, and our guys did a great job,” Virgil said of the play, which came on fourth-and-seven at the Villanova 8. “CJ did a great job of making a good catch in traffic and securing it, and our O-line held up. A lot of people don’t know CJ’s like the fourth read on that, so for the O-line to hold up that long and give us good protection and we were able to find CJ, that’s just really good.”
Villanova took over at its own 29 with 2:51 to play, and Smith hit Jaaron Hayek on a 40-yard TD strike that was wiped out on an offensive pass interference call and moved the ball back to Villanova 45.
On fourth-and-9 from the Lion 39, Smith fired incomplete to Hayek, turning the ball over on downs to the Lions with 48 seconds left.
“They went man across the board, no help on the back end, and they just brought more guys than we could get,” said Smith, who finished 11-for-18 for 143 yard and two touchdowns. “I took a chance, tried to put some air under the ball and let Jaaron go under it and go get it, unfortunately, it just missed him.”
“We had to test the waters the whole game what was working and what wasn’t,” Berglund said of the play, in which the Lions put pressure on Smith. “I think it just came down to pure will and just effort at the end. We needed a stop.”
The Lions came out firing in the second half after Villanova punted, marching 90 yards in eight plays as Virgil went 5-for-5 for 97 yards on the drive, setting up Cole Kelley’s 3-yard TD run to cut the lead to 31-21.
“We just went back to executing,” said Virgil, who went 36-for-49 with a career-high 474 yards to go with three touchdowns and an interception. “We went in the locker room, made some adjustments. Our coaches did a good job of helping us with those adjustments, and then we just came out and just got back to playing how we’re supposed to play.”
After forcing another punt, the Lions went to work on another scoring drive, marching 85 yards in four plays. Virgil hit Turner on a 29-yard TD pass, cutting the lead to 31-28.
The drive was aided by an unsportsmanlike conduct call on the Wildcats.
“Our defense did a great job kick-starting everything and getting us stops and getting us the ball back,” Virgil said. “We knew it was important for us to just put up points. We just basically look at every drive like we’ve got to score every drive. We know the defense will take care of their job.”
Turner finished with 11 catches for 173 yards and two touchdowns, Conner had nine catches for 102 yards and a touchdown, and Bransen Schwebel had six catches for 119 yards – the first time in program history Southeastern has had three receivers have 100 yards receiving in a game.
A 17-yard punt by the Wildcats set the Lions up at the Villanova 36, and the Lions cashed in with a 25-yard field goal from Broussard, knotting the score at 31 with 1:29 to play in the third quarter.
The Wildcats put together a 21-point second quarter on a trio of big scoring plays.
Villanova led 10-7 and both teams stopped each other on downs early in the second quarter before Elijah Glover’s 78-yard pick-six started the big-play trend for the Wildcats. The interception came after Garrett Zobel hit Kelley as he was throwing and put the Wildcats up 17-7.
After forcing a Southeastern punt, it took the Wildcats five plays to score, with Smith busting a 53-yard TD run, pushing the lead to 24-7.
“We didn’t do a good job in the first half stopping the run,” Scelfo said. “You could watch strategically what they were doing. They were running the football and milking the clock. They were going to limit our possessions, and they did a good job of that, but the ones that we had, we had to capitalize on, and we didn’t do that.”
Southeastern, however, answered, engineering a six-play, 69-yard scoring drive, capped by Kelley’s 1-yard TD run, cutting the lead to 24-14 with 1:33 to play in the first half.
Virgil connected with Turner for 25 yards on the first play of the drive and found Schwebel for 31 before Marcus Cooper had 11-yard run to set up the touchdown.
As quickly as the Lions scored, Villanova fired back with its third big scoring play of the quarter, with Smith connecting with Hayek on the fourth play of the ensuing drive, pushing the lead to 31-14 with 28 seconds to play in the first half.
The Lions overcame a 3-0 deficit as Virgil connected with a wide open Schwebel over the middle on a 46-yard pass to the Villanova 10, setting up Williams’ 10-yard TD run, which put the Lions up 7-3.
Villanova answered with a seven-play, 63-yard scoring drive at one point getting three straight first downs as Smith hit Justin Covington for 14 yards on third-and-9, Smith kept for 21 yards and then hit Todd Summers for 12 yards.
Two plays later, the Lions were penalized for pass interference, setting up a 4-yard TD pass from Smith to Summers, giving the Wildcats a 10-7 lead with 10 seconds to play in the first quarter.
After forcing the Lions to turn it over on downs at the Villanova 36 to open the game, the Wildcats went to work an 11-play, 43-yard scoring drive, capped by Kresge’s 38-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead with 6:56 to play in the first quarter.