Photo by Tangilena Media/Matthew Roy.
Bethune-Cookman Outlasts Lions, 28-23
HAMMOND, La. – Bethune-Cookman senior quarterback Larry Brihm Jr. snuck in from a yard out to provide the eventual winning touchdown in the Wildcats' 28-23 win over Southeastern Louisiana in non-conference action Saturday night at Strawberry Stadium.
The Lions (0-2) lost their home opener for only the second time in the past 15 years. BCU (1-1) amassed 482 total yards on the way to its first-ever win over a Southland Conference school.
"I'm not as disappointed with the loss as I am with the missed opportunities and mistakes we made," Southeastern head coach Ron Roberts said. "We had our chances in the second half to close the door, but we just couldn't finish it.
"Bethune-Cookman is a very good football team and we weren't surprised by the talent they have on both sides of the ball," Roberts added. "We made too many mistakes and missed too many opportunities to beat a good football team tonight."
Playing without sophomore starting quarterback Lorenzo Nunez, the Lions weren't able to duplicate the offensive fireworks they produced in last week's opener at UL Lafayette. Junior quarterback Donovan Isom did lead the Lions with 86 yards rushing, but also threw three interceptions in his first start since 2015.
Junior Eugene Bethea added 68 yards and his third touchdown of the season on 16 carries, while senior Juwan Dickey hauled in six passes for 58 yards, as SLU finished with 291 yards of total offense.
Southeastern also managed a special teams touchdown for the second straight week, as sophomore Juwan Petit-Frere returned a kickoff 92 yards for a score. Junior Dillon Burkhard was a perfect 3-for-3 on field goals for SLU.
On the defensive side, senior Max Lyons recorded a career-high 17 tackles, while senior Sione Teuhema added 11 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and senior Mayori Ellison recorded an interception and three pass breakups. Teuhema and junior Tamarcus Russell each forced fumbles, which were recovered by senior Courtney Rutledge and Lyons, respectively.
Despite some standout individual performances by the Lion defense, Brihm Jr. managed to pass for 354 yards, two touchdowns and an interception on 25-of-39 passing, as both senior Jawill Davis (seven catches, 138 yards, 1 TD) and junior Keavon Mitchell (6-125) topped 100 yards receiving, while senior Michael D. Jones balanced the offense with 95 yards on 17 carries.
The Wildcats struck first after the Lions went three-and-out on their opening drive. A 47-yard pass from Brihm Jr. to Mitchell highlighted an eight-play, 78-yard scoring march. A leaping 11-yard catch in the back of the end zone by senior Anthony Cruz gave BCU an early 7-0 lead with 10:48 left in the opening quarter.
SLU answered with a score of its own on the ensuing drive. A 45-yard run by Isom set up a 32-yard Burkhard field goal that cut the lead to 7-3 with 6:43 left in the first period.
BCU marched right back down the field on its next drive, covering 88 yards in nine plays. Jones powered in from four yards out to give the Wildcats a 14-3 first-quarter cushion.
The Lions were again forced to punt, giving the Wildcats a chance to pad their lead. However, on the first play of the second quarter, Russell forced Brihm Jr. to fumble and Lyons pounced on the loose ball inside the BCU 10-yard line.
Unfortunately for Southeastern, the Lion offense was not able to take full advantage of the prime field position and had to settle for a 26-yard field goal by Burkhard to cut the lead to 14-6 with 14:32 left in the opening half.
After SLU forced the Wildcats to punt for the first time, the Lions embarked on a methodical 12-play, 64-yard drive that took over five minutes off the clock. Southeastern managed to crack the Wildcat red zone, but again had to settle for three, as Burkhard connected on a 33-yard field goal to pull the Lions within, 14-9, with 6:14 remaining in the second quarter.
The defenses took over the rest of the half to make the 14-9 score stand heading into the second half. BCU's final two drives of the half ended in punts, while Isom interceptions ended SLU's final two drives.
On the first drive of the second half, Teuhema burst around right end and stripped Brihm Jr. with a sack and Rutledge pounced on the fumble at the BCU 27-yard line. Three quick runs later, Bethea scampered in from seven yards out to give SLU its first lead, 16-14, with 13:33 left.
BCU moved into Lion territory on its next two possessions, but the Lions maintained the lead. Senior Torrance Mosley ended one Wildcat drive by blocking a 39-yard field goal attempt, while Ellison's second career interception ended its next drive.
However, the Lions offense answered with two punts and an interception on its next three drives, allowing BCU to take the lead early in the fourth quarter. A 24-yard punt by sophomore Ivy Wall set up the Wildcats on the Lion 43-yard line to start the go-ahead drive. A 28-yard Brihm-to-Davis past set up a short two-yard touchdown hookup between the same two players, staking BCU to a 21-16 lead with 11 minutes left.
The Wildcat lead would last for one play. On the ensuing kickoff, Petit-Frere caught the ball on the right side and raced around the end and untouched down the left sideline for a 92-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
The kickoff return for a score was the first by a Lion since Xavier Roberson opened a 58-31 win over Central Arkansas with a 90-yard touchdown return on Nov. 9, 2013. More importantly, it gave SLU a 23-21 lead with 10:46 remaining.
BCU would answer with the game-winning drive. Brihm Jr. made the big plays to give the Wildcats the lead for good. Facing a fourth-and-two near midfield, the Wildcat senior quarterback scrambled just past the sticks.
After a Teuhema late hit put BCU in field goal range, Brihm Jr. found Jones open for a 21-yard pass to put the Wildcats in a goal-to-go situation. Three plays later, Brihm cleared the goal line to give Bethune-Cookman a 28-23 advantage with 6:04 left.
SLU moved into BCU territory on its final drive, but would ultimately stall. A fourth-down interference call gave the Lions one more first down at the Wildcat 35-yard line. However, two short Bethea runs and a pair of Isom incompletions ended the Lions' last chance.
The Wildcats took over with 1:27 left and made the one first down necessary to run out the clock and secure the victory.
Southeastern will open Southland Conference play next Saturday with a 7:15 p.m. game at Central Arkansas. The game will be televised on Eleven Sports Network and streamed live via the Southland Digital Network at www.southland.org. The game can also be heard on the Southeastern Sports Radio Network (KSLU 90.9 FM, Kajun 107.1 FM, The Highway 104.7 FM, WFPR 1400 AM), online at www.LionSports.net/listenlive and via the TuneIn Radio app.