History Made

Football in December at Southeastern has not happened for quite some time, but the 39 degree, cold and rainy weather did not stop fans from cheering on their No. 4 seeded Lions football team playing the Sam Houston State Bearkats a second time in three weeks. It proved to be a nail biting, on-the-edge-of-your-seat type of game right from the start, but the Lions (11-2, 7-0 SLC) pulled off the win in the final minute.
Starting quarterback Bryan Bennett threw for 85 yards in 45 seconds for the final touchdown of the game leaving 0:36 on the board and giving the team a 30-29 win; this score was the result of clean execution when it really counted.
With the Lions down 29-24 in the fourth quarter, the Southland Conference Player of the Year knew he had to make the final play fully composed-he had to, or the chances of reaching the FCS championship game with his new team would go out the window. This was no ordinary final drive.
“I really just was putting faith in my teammates and believing,” Bennett said. “We were able to [execute].”
Sam Houston came out energized in the first half, scoring two touchdowns in the first five minutes. Bennett threw a pick-six immediately after his offense stepped on the field. Sam Houston held the lead at 21-7, but Head Coach Ron Roberts had other defensive plans moving into the second.
“Our guys stepped up when we needed them the most,” Roberts said. “I thought our defense played well all night long. We had some big stops on both sides of the field.”
The tables completely turned, and the Lions scored 17 points in the second quarter with two touchdowns and a field goal kick. Ending the half at 24-21, Roberts felt confident his team had control of the game despite the close score. A three-point gap would not fend off the Bearkats for much longer.
“Going into halftime, I really thought we had control of the ball game,” said Roberts. “Come out in the third quarter, partly to their credit, Sam Houston made some plays. They were running the football and kept our offense off the field. At that point it’s a slug fest, and you’ve got to find a way to get it done.”
Sam Houston forced a safety in the third when Bearkat linebacker Eric Fieilo sacked Bennett inside the five yard line. With only one point deciding whether or not their season was over, the Lions desperately tried to hold onto the 24-23 lead. The third also saw kicker Seth Sebastian miss his first field goal kick. All of this was only fuel to the fire.
The Lions stayed on the right path defensively with Cqulin Hubert, Southland Conference Defensive Player of the Year, recording 11 total tackles, and defensive backs Theo Alexander and Kevin Harmon totaling 18, each respectively with nine. Neither team scored after halftime; Hubert and his defense put heavy pressure on the Bearkats to keep them out of the end zone.
“I just knew that if I got Bryan back the ball, he was going to make a great play,” Hubert said. “I give thanks to my d-line. They gave great push.”
The hopes of staying alive in the playoffs seemed far from reach when the Bearkat quarterback Bryan Bell rushed for two yards to the touchdown early in the fourth quarter. Physical defense and clean passing prevented the Lions from scoring until it came down to the final minute.
Bennett’s final drive was a pass to Marquis Fruge for a 25-yard rush, and then another to Jeff Smiley to complete the play bringing the final score to 30-29. Bennett’s competitiveness shone during that drive, saying, “When our offense clicks, we can score at will.”
Roberts believes these are the types of plays which make a championship team.
“Competitive greatness is being at your best when your best is needed,” said Roberts. “Did he treat it like any other drive? He probably did, but he knew it was ‘it,’ and it’s put up or shut up. We were putting all the marbles on the table. That’s a mark of a great competitor.”
The Lions host New Hampshire Wildcats (9-4, 6-2 AEC) in the NCAA Division I Quarterfinals this Saturday, Dec. 14 at 6 p.m. in Strawberry Stadium.