SLU’s magical season comes to an end at the hands of Samford


Randy Bergeron

Southeastern running back Jessie Britt runs upfield against Samford in the second half of the second round NCAA FCS playoff game Saturday at F. Page Seibert Stadium in Birmingham, Ala. (Photo by Randy Bergeron/SLU Sports Info)

Southeastern football’s 2022 campaign has come to a close in the second round of the FCS playoffs. 

In another thrilling postseason matchup, the Lions came out on the losing side this time 48-42 in overtime at Seibert Stadium in Homewood, Ala. 

Going on the road in the playoffs hasn’t been kind to the Green and Gold in recent years and Saturday proved to be no different. 

Despite suffering in defeat, the Lions can hold their heads high after battling the #6 team in the country past regulation in Birmingham. 

The Bulldogs got the luxury of resting last week because of their top-eight seeding and received a first-round bye while Southeastern was battling Idaho at Strawberry Stadium.

Samford took the opening kickoff and marched 75 yards in 10 plays to pounce on SLU 7-0 early. (Zach Williams PAT good)

Walter Payton Award candidate and Southern Conference Player of the Year Michael Hiers was injured on the series and exited the game for good; backup freshman quarterback Quincy Crittendon took over signal calling duties. 

The Decatur, Ala. native dropped his touchdown pass to senior slot receiver Judd Cockett in a bucket as the Bulldogs struck first. 

Southeastern answered with a scoring drive of its own which was capped off by Carlos Washington’s eight-yard run to even the game at seven. (Riley Callaghan PAT good)

Samford rolled the dice by going for it from fourth and one at their own 34. 

It proved to be costly as the Lions’ defense bottled up Crittendon at the line of scrimmage to force a turnover on downs. 

Three plays later, Cephus Johnson III’s QB sneak put the Green and Gold up 14-7. (Callaghan PAT good)

On the Bulldogs’ ensuing possession, Crittendon connected on a deep ball with senior wideout Kendall Watson on a 47-yard strike down to the SLU one. 

Fellow senior, running back Jay Stanton, waltzed into the end zone on the very next play taking the ball off tackle on a read option to tie up the game once more, 14-14. (Williams PAT good)

After a rampant first quarter of action that featured 28 combined points, the rest of the first half only featured seven Samford points as the home side took a 21-14 advantage into the locker room.

Southeastern did reach the red zone on two separate occasions in the second quarter but came up empty both times. 

SLU ran an unsuccessful fake field goal on fourth and 13 from the Bulldog 16 before Johnson threw an interception in the end zone under a minute before intermission on first down from the 13-yard line. 

Samford was able to sandwich the Lions’ two failed trips inside the 20 with the game’s longest scoring drive, marching 88 yards in 12 plays.

Following a nice mix of run and pass, Crittendon took to the air from 10 yards out, finding Watson all alone in the back of the end zone for the touchdown. (Williams PAT good)

The Green and Gold received the second-half kickoff down 21-14, but had a quick three and out to give the ball back to the red hot Bulldogs’ offense. 

Cockett and Crittendon then combined for their second scoring strike of the day from 48 yards to push Samford’s lead to double digits, 28-14. (Williams PAT good)

Cockett double-caught the pass from his quarterback, which seemed to throw off Southeastern safety Donniel Ward-Magee. Cockett cut to the inside untouched en route to pay dirt. 

With its season on the line, SLU went 75 yards in eight plays to get back within a touchdown, punctuated by Johnson’s third and two run of 26, resulting in six. (Callaghan PAT good)

The fifth-year transfer from Mobile turned on the accelerators after the left side of the Lion line walled off the Bulldog defense. 

On the next play from scrimmage, Crittendon committed his first turnover of the contest on a quarterback keeper and Southeastern suddenly had new life. 

Sophomore D-lineman Bryce Cage stormed into the backfield untouched and got a big mitt on the football, jarring it loose for graduate edge rusher Tainano Gaulua to recover at the Samford 22. 

The Green and Gold cashed in their short field with a game-tying touchdown after Johnson’s second effort fourth and goal plunge from a yard out leveled the scoreboard at 28. (Callaghan PAT good)

Both heavyweights traded three and outs to end the third quarter before the Bulldogs regained the lead on the first play of the fourth, 35-28. (Williams PAT good)

Crittendon avenged his earlier fumble by standing tall in the pocket and delivering a 25-yard touchdown to senior Jaylan Thomas. 

The freshman withstood a big hit whilst placing a perfect pass to his running back via a wheel route in which the Lion secondary busted on the play. 

Southeastern’s offense sputtered to another three-and-out and Samford obliged for their second score of the fourth quarter to extend their lead to 14 points, 42-28. (Williams PAT good)

Stanton took the shotgun snap from Crittendon and ran right up the gut for the touchdown. 

The drive was set up by Crittendon, who scampered for 23 yards on a QB draw to move the chains after being faced with a third and 15 from his own 37. 

SLU never blinked despite being down by 14 once more and responded in just five plays to trim the Bulldog lead back to 7, 42-35. (Callaghan PAT good)

Senior running back Jessie Britt burst through the middle for 47 yards to spark the Lions’ offense, and backfield mate Washington finished off the drive on an eight-yard scoring run.

The New Hampshire transfer took the handoff off right tackle and extended over the plane of the goal line for the touchdown. 

Coach D’Ottavio’s unit stood up to force two different punts from Samford well into the last quarter of play and returned the ball to the offense with 2:40 remaining. 

Backs against the wall, the cardiac cats from Hammond, America were not done just yet. 

First-team All-Southland selection Gage Larvadain adjusted beautifully on a deep heave from Johnson for a 44-yard gain down to the Bulldog 18. 

On the following play, Johnson hooked up with Britt on an angle route as the hard-nosed runner stiff-armed and lowered his shoulder past multiple would-be tacklers to set up Southeastern with a first and goal at the one. 

After Larvadain lost a yard on first and goal, offensive coordinator Greg Stevens went back to Britt, who scored standing up to get the Lions within one with 37 seconds remaining.

Head Coach Frank Scelfo elected to play for overtime and Callaghan was true on his extra point for the fourth and final tie of the game. 

The Green and Gold received the ball first and looked to take its first lead of the shoot-out since the 4:22 mark back in the first quarter. 

In the second play of the series, Johnson kept the rock on a read option and had plenty of room on the right side. 

The 6’5 signal caller eluded a Bulldog defender at the two-yard line but was stripped from behind by a trailing Hakeem Johnson as the ball bounced into the pylon for a touchback. 

Needing just three for victory, Samford found six as Crittendon capped his brilliant performance in relief with a walk-off touchdown to break SLU hearts, 48-42. 

Southeastern finished the 2022 football season at 9-4 after exiting the FCS playoffs in the second round for the third time in four years. 

The Lions can hold their heads high after winning their first Southland Conference Championship since 2014 and the third in school history. 

SLC Coach of the Year Frank Scelfo has completely changed the culture of this program and his squad was just an overtime period away from reaching the quarterfinals; a feat never accomplished before in Hammond.