THIBODAUX, La. — The River Bell Classic once again lived up to its name on Saturday, but this time it went the way of No. 19/23 Southeastern Louisiana in a 52-45 victory over No. 17/18 Nicholls in a Southland Conference football thriller at Guidry Stadium.
The Lions (4-2, 4-2 Southland) intercepted Nicholls quarterback Lindsey Scott four times and outscored the Colonels (4-3, 3-3 Southland), 35-21, in the second half to pull away for the victory.
It was the first win in three tries in the River Bell Classic for the Lions under head coach Frank Scelfo.
“Two seasons ago, we came here and it was 44-0,” Scelfo said. “Today shows how far we’ve come as a program. I’m so proud of our guys and how they competed here today.”
SLU finished with 499 yards of total offense, as Cole Kelley threw for 391 yards and a career-high four touchdowns on 30-for-41 passing. CJ Turner was Kelley’s top target, catching a career-high tying 11 passes for 110 yards and two touchdowns.
Alphonso Taylor led the Lion defensive effort with two interceptions, while Ferlando Jordan and Jack Henderson each returned interceptions for touchdowns. Julien Gums led the Nicholls offensive attack, rushing for a career-high four touchdowns.
Southeastern took the lead on the opening drive of the game, driving 13 plays for 75 yards. Terrell Carter found Kelley from six yards out on a double reverse pass for a 7-0 Lion lead.
After Nicholls answered with a 31-yard field goal by Gavin Lasseigne, SLU tacked on another touchdown. A 42-yard catch and run by Dawson set up a four-yard CJ Turner scoring catch that put Southeastern ahead, 14-3, with 4:17 left in the opening quarter.
Nicholls came right back with their first touchdown of the game. A 39-yard reception by Dai’Jean Dixon set up a one-yard Gums run that cut the SLU lead to 14-10 with 1:24 remaining in the opening period.
Southeastern drove into Nicholls territory to open the second quarter. However, Rengifo’s 33-yard try missed wide right. The Lion kicker’s first miss of the year kept the Lion lead at 14-10 with 11:37 left in the first half.
Nicholls took advantage to take the lead. Gums scored from four yards out to cap an 11-play, 80-yard scoring march and give the Colonels a 17-14 advantage with 8:27 remaining in the second quarter.
After SLU was forced to punt, Nicholls extended its lead. Gums scored from three yards out to cap an eight-play, 59-yard scoring drive and put Nicholls up, 24-14, with just under three minutes left in the first half. Rengifo cut the lead to 24-17 at the half with a 21-yard field goal.
Jordan opened the second half with a 35-yard interception return for a touchdown to tie the score less than 30 seconds into the third quarter. The pick six was the fourth of the All-American from Atlanta, Georgia’s Lion career.
On the ensuing Colonel possession, Brendon Kelley and Arlen Williams combined for a sack of Lindsey Scott to force the first Nicholls punt of the game. On a fourth-and-two from the Nicholls eight-yard line, Kelley found Turner from eight yards out to cap a seven-play, 45-yard drive and give SLU a 31-24 lead with 9:24 remaining in the third period.
Nicholls’ David Robinson took the ensuing kickoff back to midfield. Five plays later, Scott knifed through the Lion defense for a 25-yard touchdown. However, Jordan blocked the extra point attempt to keep SLU ahead, 31-30, with 7:32 left in the third quarter.
After a Lion punt, SLU came up with another big play on defense. Henderson stepped in front of a Scott pass and raced in from 23 yards out to give the Lions a 38-30 lead with 4:21 left in the third quarter.
Nicholls tied it up on the first play of the fourth quarter. Gums snaked in from four yards out and the Colonels converted the two-point conversion, tying the game at 38-38 just five seconds into the final period.
SLU answered on the ensuing drive, as on fourth-and-five, Kelley found Marcus Cooper wide open on a screen pass and the speedster from Altair, Texas housed it from 45 yards out to give the Lions a 45-38 advantage with 13:18 left.
On the next play from scrimmage, Taylor intercepted Scott at the Colonel 39-yard line. Kelley took advantage of the turnover, finding Nick Kovacs for a 20-yard scoring toss to give SLU a 52-38 lead with just over eight minutes left.
Another Taylor interception gave SLU the ball back at its own 29-yard line. The Lions were able to work over four minutes off the clock before punting the ball back to the Colonels.
Nicholls moved 90 yards on nine plays with Scott finding Tahj Smith for a 15-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 52-45 with 1:34 left.
Southeastern recovered the ensuing onside kick and was able to drain the Colonels of their timeouts before punting the ball away with just 22 seconds left. Nicholls was able to launch several Hail Mary attempts in the final seconds, but the Lion secondary turned the attempts away to even the all-time series, 15-15, with the Colonels.
Southeastern will close out its 2020-21 schedule on Saturday with a noon contest at No. 16/18 Southern Illinois. The game will be televised on either ESPN3 or ESPN+ and can be heard on the Southeastern Sports Radio Network (KSLU 90.9 FM, Kajun 107.1 FM, The Highway 104.7 FM and The Boss 103.7 FM/1400 AM). Fans can also listen live at www.LionSports.net/listenlive and via the Lions Game Day Experience and TuneIn Radio apps.
INSIDE SOUTHEASTERN FOOTBALL WITH FRANK SCELFO
Inside Southeastern Football With Frank Scelfo, presented by Louisiana’s First Choice Auto Auction, will air every Monday through the end of the season at 7 p.m. on the patio at Pour House Pizza and Beer Garden (505 West Thomas Street) in downtown Hammond. Hosted by Scelfo, the reigning Southland Conference Coach of the Year, and Allen Waddell, the hour-long show will air on the Southeastern Sports Radio Network (KSLU-FM (90.9), Kajun 107.1 FM, The Highway 104.7 FM and The Boss 103.7 FM/1400 AM WFPR). Fans can also listen live at www.LionSports.net/listenlive and via the Lions Game Day and TuneIn Radio apps.
For more information on Southeastern Football, follow @LionUpFootball and @Coach_Scelfo on Twitter, like /SLUathletics on Facebook and subscribe to the SLUathletics YouTube channel.
TOUCHDOWN CLUB/S CLUB
Fans interested in becoming active supporters of the football program are encouraged to join the Touchdown Club. Lion football alums are encouraged to join the exclusive S Club, which is restricted to Southeastern athletic letter winners.
All membership fees and donations to both the Touchdown Club and S Club (football) are available for the exclusive use of the Southeastern football program. Membership information is available by contacting the Lion Athletics Association at email@example.com or (985) 549-5091 or visiting www.LionUp.com.
CLEAR BAG POLICY
Southeastern Athletics instituted a clear bag policy for all ticketed events, effective with the start of the 2018 football season. For more information on the clear bag policy, visit www.LionSports.net/clear.