NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - No. 23 Southeastern Louisiana forced four McNeese turnovers – including three in the fourth quarter – on the way to a 25-20 victory in Southland Conference football action Saturday night in Strawberry Stadium.
Playing at home for the first time in 461 days, the Lions (1-1, 1-1 Southland) clinched the victory with a forced fumble by Ferlando Jordan that was pounced on right before it went out of bounds by Alexis Ramos inside the SLU five-yard line, as McNeese (1-2, 0-2 Southland) was driving for a potential go-ahead score.
Jordan also had an interception in the win, as did Matthew Wright, playing his first home game since September 2018. Alphonso Taylor also forced a fumble, while Herman Christophe was credited with a fumble recovery.
Donniel Ward-Magee finished with a game-high 14 tackles for the Lions, while Ramos chipped in with 11 stops. Ward-Magee, Tainano Gailua, Darrius Harry and Justin Douglas were all credited with sacks for SLU.
After putting up the highest passing yardage total in FCS last week, the SLU offense was much more balanced in its home debut. Morgan Ellison led the Southeastern ground attack with 15 carries for 127 yards and a touchdown, as the Lions accumulated 191 rushing yards.
Cole Kelley threw for 301 yards and a touchdown on 21-of-39 passing on Saturday.
CJ Turner (six catches, 71 yards, one touchdown) and Javon Conner (five catches, 104 yards) were Kelley’s top targets in the win.
Mateo Rengifo connected on all four of his field goal attempts for the Lions.
McNeese quarterback Cody Orgeron threw for 165 yards and two interceptions on 13-of-20 passing on Saturday. AJ Carter led the Cowboys with 15 carries for 57 yards and a touchdown. Andre Sam paced the visitors with eight tackles.
McNeese opened the game with a 62-yard kickoff return by AJ Carter that set the Cowboys up in the red zone to start the game. The SLU defense answered by holding McNeese to a 21-yard Jacob Abel field goal, as Ramos and Feletoa Ailua stuffed Orgeron on third-and-goal.
After the two teams traded three-and-outs, SLU got on the board late in the first quarter. A 21-yard pass from Kelley to Turner highlighted a 12-play, 56-yard drive that Rengifo capped with a 27-yard field goal to knot the score at 3-3 with 3:51 left in the opening period.
McNeese drove into SLU territory on the ensuing possession, but Jordan made a leaping interception at the Lion 10-yard line to end the Cowboy threat. After Jordan’s pick, the Lions embarked on a methodical 16-play, 79-yard drive that ate up over seven minutes of clock.
Rengifo knocked in a 29-yard field goal attempt after the drive stalled to give Southeastern a 6-3 advantage with 9:13 left in the opening half. After McNeese tied the game on an Abel field goal on the ensuing possession, both offenses traded empty possessions.
SLU took over on its own 20-yard line with 2:02 left and a pair of timeouts. Kelley ran the two-minute drill to perfection, completing six-of-nine passes during the 12-play, 80-yard scoring drive.
On the final play of the half, Kelley found Turner from eight yards out in the back left corner of the end zone. Rengifo’s point after attempt was blocked, but the Lions went into the break with a 12-6 lead.
Southeastern padded its advantage on the first drive of the second half. Ellison broke loose for a winding 32-yard scoring run to give SLU a 19-6 advantage just over three minutes into the third quarter.
After the Lions forced a three-and-out, Southeastern moved deep into McNeese territory with a chance to put some significant distance between itself and the Cowboys. However, a strip sack of Kelley by CJ Semien was recovered by Accord Green at the McNeese 39-yard line to end the SLU threat.
The turnover gave McNeese life, as the Cowboys marched 61 yards on seven plays. Carlos Williams powered in from nine yards out to cut the SLU lead to 19-13 with just over five minutes left in the third quarter.
Kelley found Conner for a 32-yard catch and run on the next play from scrimmage to highlight an eight-play, 59-yard drive that put SLU back up by two scores. The Lions stalled in the Cowboy red zone, but Rengifo connected on a 32-yard field goal to pad the SLU cushion to 22-13 with 1:55 remaining in the third quarter.
McNeese came right back to pull within two on its next possession. Orgeron found Severyn Foster for a 56-yard catch-and-run that highlighted an eight-play, 67-yard scoring drive. Carter bulled in from two yards out to cut the lead to 22-20 under a minute into the final quarter. McNeese recovered an onside kick to steal a possession after Carter’s score.
However, Wright intercepted Orgeron at the Lion 11-yard line to help SLU maintain the lead. After the Lions were forced to punt, the SLU defense came up big again, as Taylor knocked the ball free from Williams after a short pass and Christophe pounced on the loose ball to give the ball back to Southeastern offense.
A Rengifo 33-yard field goal resulted from the turnover, giving SLU a 25-20 advantage with 9:19 remaining.
McNeese would threaten one more time, moving all the way to the Lion six-yard line. A sack by Ward Magee pushed the Cowboys back to a third-and-goal opportunity from the SLU 11-yard line. Orgeron tried to scramble in on the next play, but Jordan and Justin Douglas converged on him just inside the five-yard line. Jordan provided the initial hit that sprung the ball loose, as his fellow All-Southland teammate Ramos snagged the ball right before it went out of bounds to end the Cowboys’ last threat.
First-down runs by Cephus Johnson III and Ellison sealed it for the Lions, who were able to kneel it out to secure its fifth straight victory in Hammond over the Cowboys.
Up Next: The Lions welcome Northwestern State next Saturday at 6 p.m. in Strawberry Stadium to open their home slate.
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