LAKE CHARLES, La. – No. 14 Southeastern Louisiana University held off a late McNeese rally to open Southland Conference play with a 38-35 league road win over the Cowboys on Saturday afternoon at Cowboy Stadium.
Southeastern (3-1, 1-0 Southland) finished with 546 total yards and 30 first downs on the way to its first win in Lake Charles since 2014. McNeese fell to 1-4 overall and 0-2 in Southland play with the loss.
“This was a good win for us in a very tough environment,” Southeastern head coach Frank Scelfo said. “This is only the third time Southeastern has won in Lake Charles since 2003, which is a cool accomplishment for our program.”
Lion senior quarterback and reigning Walter Payton Award winner Cole Kelley threw for 391 yards, three touchdowns and an interception on 36-for-49 passing, spreading the ball to 13 different receivers. Kelley connected with CJ Turner, Nick Kovacs and Tim Wilson Jr. on scoring tosses.
Turner led SLU with six catches for 71 yards, while Austin Mitchell (83 yards), Taron Jones (46 yards) and Nolan Givan (42 yards) each hauled in five passes apiece. Kelley led the Lions with 65 yards rushing on 17 carries, as he and Jones both found the end zone on the ground.
Cody Orgeron led the Cowboys with 77 yards on 13 carries, while also throwing for 246 yards, three touchdowns and one interception on 14-for-23 passing. Mason Pierce (six catches, 79 yards, two TD) was Orgeron’s top target.
Brandon Barbee led Southeastern with five tackles in his Lion debut, while Justin Douglas pulled down an amazing interception. Garrett Crawford, John Graves III, Brendon Kelley and Bryce Cage each had sacks for SLU, which yielded 367 yards of total offense.
On the opening drive of the game, Chris Joyce intercepted a Kelley pass to take over at the Lion 32-yard line. One minute later, Stephon Huderson powered in from a yard out to give McNeese a 7-0 early lead with 13:17 remaining in the opening quarter.
SLU answered with a nine-play, 75-yard scoring march to knot the score. Kelley found Kovacs from 13 yards out to tie the score with 8:20 left in the first period.
After forcing the Cowboys to a three-and-out, Southeastern took the lead with an eight-play, 70-yard drive. Kelley capped it with a one-yard touchdown run to put the Lions up, 14-7, with 4:36 left in the opening quarter.
SLU forced another three-and-out, then drove 44 yards on 10 plays. On the second play of the second quarter, Mateo Rengifo connected on a 28-yard field goal to give the Lions a 17-7 lead 11 seconds into the second quarter.
McNeese drove deep into Lion territory on the next drive, but the SLU defense held firm. Nolan Heitmeir pushed a 35-yard field goal wide right and the Lions took over at their 20-yard line with just under 12 minutes left in the half.
After the two teams traded empty possessions, Southeastern padded its lead on the final possession of the first half. The Lions drove 93 yards on 15 plays and Turner snagged a six-yard score from Kelley on the final play of the half to put SLU up, 24-7, at the break.
Southeastern forced McNeese to punt, but the Lions muffed the ensuing punt and the Cowboys recovered at the Lion 17-yard line. On the next play, Orgeron found Josh Matthews for a score to cut the SLU lead to 24-14 with 12:23 remaining in the third quarter.
Southeastern answered with a nine-play, 59-yard scoring drive to extend its lead. Taron Jones powered in from a yard out to give the Lions a 31-14 advantage with 8:53 left in the third quarter.
McNeese answered right back less than a minute later. Mason Pierce took a quick slant from Orgeron and housed it from 48 yards out to pull within, 31-21, with 7:54 remaining in the third period.
SLU was forced to punt for the first time since the third quarter of its game on Sept. 11 at Louisiana Tech. But Douglas made a one-handed interception at the Lion 40-yard line to end the Cowboy threat.
The two teams traded empty possessions until SLU stretched the lead with a six-play, 56-yard scoring drive. Kelley found Wilson Jr. for an eight-yard touchdown pass to push the Lions to a 38-21 advantage with 8:54 left in the contest.
McNeese would not go away, quietly, however. Orgeron found Pierce from 11 yards out to cap a quick five-play, 82-yard scoring drive and pull the Cowboys within, 38-28, with just under seven minutes remaining.
SLU then was forced to punt and Pierce returned the ball all the way down to the Lion four-yard line. Three plays later, Pierce scored from three yards out to cut the SLU lead to 38-35 with 3:22 left.
McNeese attempted an onside kick on the ensuing kickoff and Ferlando Jordan pounced on it at midfield to give the Lions the ball. Southeastern was able to run out the clock and secure just its third win in Lake Charles since the program returned back in 2003.
The Lions will close out their five-game road swing to start the season at Nicholls next Saturday at noon in Thibodaux. The game between SLU and the Colonels will be televised on Cox Sports Television and ESPN+, while also being heard in the Hammond area on Kajun 107.1 FM, The Highway 104.7 FM and The Boss 103.7 FM/1400 AM, as well as online at www.kajun107.net.
SLU – 14 10 7 7 – 38 (3-1, 1-0 SLC)
MCN – 7 0 14 14 – 35 (1-4, 0-2 SLC)
MCN – Huderson 1 run (Heitmeir kick), 13:17
SLU – Kovacs 13 pass from Kelley (Rengifo kick), 8:20
SLU – Kelley 1 run (Rengifo kick), 4:36
SLU – Rengifo 28 FG, 14:49
SLU – Turner 6 pass from Kelley (Rengifo kick), 0:02
MCN – Matthews 17 pass from Orgeron (Heitmeir kick), 12:23
SLU – T. Jones 1 run (Rengifo kick), 8:53
MCN – Pierce 48 pass from Orgeron (Heitmeir kick), 7:54
SLU – Wilson Jr. 8 pass from Kelley (Rengifo kick), 8:54
MCN – Pierce 11 pass from Orgeron (Heitmeir kick), 6:46
MCN – Pierce 3 run (Heitmeir kick), 3:22