Lions clinch berth in FCS playoffs
Something loyal Lion football fans have not seen in 52 years is their team winning a Southland Conference Championship, and now their eyes have seen the glory. After a 34-21 victory over the No. 4 ranked Sam Houston State Bearkats (8-3, 4-2 SLC), the No. 14 Lions (9-2, 6-0 SLC) showed everybody the composure they have gained as a team this season. Head Coach Ron Roberts and his coaching staff, who he gives lots of credit to, have brought their team from the bottom to the top in what seems like an effortless manner.
"It's a great night for Southeastern, our athletic program, football program and everybody across the board," Roberts said. "I think it's a long time coming for this, and I'm real proud of our players, and how they played and got the job done."
Win or lose this Thursday night against Nicholls State at 6 p.m., the Lions head to the NCAA 2014 Division I Football Championship in Frisco, Texas. The last time the Lions made it this far was with Head Coach Sam Galloway, he brought the team to the top of the Gulf States Conference in 1961.
"We're excited about the opportunity to represent this conference in the NCAA playoffs," Roberts said at the opening of the press conference after he received his Gatorade bath on the field from his players and a storm of Lion Nation fans.
The first quarter started off slow, a tactic the Lions have fallen into since the start of the season, as hopes looked dismal when the Bearkats had a 21-17 lead by the end of the first half. Bearkats senior quarterback Brian Bell was the Lion defense's prey and senior linebacker Cqulin Hubert worked hard to put the pressure on.
"We knew that we had to put pressure on him and make him feel real uncomfortable in the pocket," Hubert said. "Our guys, they played a real good game and got after the quarterback."
Hubert, who will play his final season with the Lions this year, was emotional after the win thanking everyone in Hammond and his team.
"It feels real good," said Hubert. "I'm proud of my quarterback Bryan Bennett, my running backs and my defense. My defense allowed me to play well, and my linebackers and defensive backs came back and played a great second half."
Before the end of the half, junior quarterback Bryan Bennett and his offense finally showed up as he threw two complete passes to senior wide receiver Marquis Frugee for touchdowns. Bennett threw for 268 yards and three touchdowns during the game.
Then the tone shifted minutes into the third quarter as Bennett completed a pass to sophomore running back Xavier Roberson for 62 yards for the touchdown. At the start of the fourth quarter, junior linebacker Isiah Corbett intercepted the Bearkat ball for a 61 yard return, while senior defensive back Kevin Harmon followed suit with the same action a few minutes later to give Southeastern the ball once again. Lions offense and defense were feeding off each other while Corbett was working hard to stay focused.
"Before those [big] plays, Coach Scott just kept telling me he believed in me," Corbett said. "When your number is called you just got to step up and make the play, and that's what I wanted to do. I was able to make a play for my team."
Sophomore running back Kody Sutton was out for the McNeese State game two weeks ago for family reasons. His mother was ill, and he needed to be by her side, so his Lion family, which has quickly become his second family, supported him all the way. Though he played last week against UCA, being back on the home field for the first time in three weeks was a blessing and the win was for his mom just as much as it was for Hammond. While he was away, he felt the love.
"My teammates got my back, sending me text messages. From the coaches to the athletic director to everybody just supporting me 100 percent," Sutton said. "Before the McNeese game they were like 'This one was for you.' Just knowing they did that for me and my family, we appreciate it."
Saturday, Nov. 16 was a day everyone in Hammond witnessed a part of Southeastern history, and the players could not be more ecstatic to be a part of it all. According to Bennett, they could not have pulled off a successful season without the fans.
"You heard our crowd, it's the loudest I've heard them," said Bennett. "It's a good feeling to know that all these people have our back and want to see us succeed. You take it back last week to Central Arkansas, we had a great crowd there and that's eight hours away, so we just really thank the fans for supporting us, and we're just really excited to keep moving forward."
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