Defense sparks Southeastern over Abilene Christian
HAMMOND — There were offensive fireworks by both teams, but it was Southeastern’s opportunistic defense that made the difference Saturday night.
The Lions forced two key turnovers in the third quarter and then held on for a 31-19 Southland Conference win over Abilene Christian at Strawberry Stadium.
The plays — a defensive score and a drive-killing interception — helped keep Southeastern (6-4, 6-2) in third place in the Southland Conference behind undefeated co-leaders Sam Houston State and Central Arkansas. Abilene Christian ends its season 2-9 overall, 2-7 in conference play.
“We knew they’d been playing good football. We didn’t underestimate them,” SLU coach Ron Roberts said. “We had chances to put it away, and we just didn’t get the points. I thought we would score and separate from them, but we didn’t.”
Offensively, SLU’s Justin Alo completed 19 of 36 passes for 293 yards and two touchdowns. Julius Maracalin also had a touchdown rushing 22 times for 127 yards, the second consecutive 100-yard game for him.
“I just want to thank my O-line for helping me achieve that,” Maracalin said. “Overall, I felt I had a good game.”
The Lions’ final touchdown came courtesy of their defense.
That score came early in the third quarter with Abilene backed up to its own 10. Lions linebacker Lee Spight sacked ACU quarterback Dallas Sealey forcing a fumble. Jake Jiannoni scooped the fumble at the 4 and dove into the end zone for a touchdown.
The play gave Southeastern a 28-13 lead.
The second turnover came after Abilene cut the SLU lead to 28-19. With Abilene facing second-and-goal at the SLU 5, Mayori Ellison stepped in front of a Sealey pass to end the threat.
SLU then drove 83 yards to set up Jonathan Tatum’s 23-yard field goal for a 31-19 lead.
“I thought we controlled (ACU’s ground game) and put them in some passing situations,” Roberts said. “We gave up some plays, but (Sealey) is a good player.”
Sealey completed 28 of 45 passes for 300 yards and a touchdown, but that was all the offense Abilene could generate. The Wildcats rushed for only 29 yards.
Southeastern took a 21-13 halftime lead, scoring touchdowns on its first two possessions and adding another on its final series of the half.
The Lions limited ACU to 137 yards of total offense, but a costly turnover set up the Wildcats’ touchdown. Southeastern forced an ACU punt from midfield, which Torrance Mosley fielded at the SLU 7.
Abilene’s Quincy Dunn caused Mosley to fumble, and Keith Barnett recovered at the SLU 12. Two plays later, the Wildcats scored on a throwback pass from running back De’Andre Brown to Sealey.
The Lions’ offense scored touchdowns on three of its five possessions. SLU also missed a 48-yard field goal and a three-and-out.
Alo threw for two touchdowns, including one that capped the Lions opening possession. In the drive, Alo completed five passes for 77 yards, the last a 30-yarder to Juwaan Rogers for the score.
Rogers was open at the 20 on a busted coverage and was untouched until diving over a defender at the goal line.
Maracalin’s 45-yard run set up SLU’s second touchdown. After a first down at the ACU 23, Alo found Brandon Acker twice — first for 10 yards and then for a 13-yard score.
Mosley’s 28-yard punt return gave the Lions a start at the ACU 42 with 1:57 left in the half. Alo’s 38-yard pass to Javon Tillman preceded Maracalin’s 2-yard touchdown run, which gave SLU a 21-13 lead.
The win allowed Southeastern to even its series record with Abilene Christian at 2-2. Abilene Christian won the previous meeting between the teams in Hammond 21-7 in 1971.