No. 15/17 SLU Pulls Away for 49-28 Victory at UNA in Battle of Lions
FLORENCE, Ala. – The No. 15/17 Southeastern Louisiana University football team scored 22 straight points in the second half to pull away for a 49-28 victory over North Alabama in the season opener for both teams Saturday night at Braly Stadium.
Saturday’s game marked the end of one the most challenging weeks ever for the football program at SLU (1-0). The contest was originally scheduled to be played in Strawberry Stadium, but the effects of Hurricane Ida on the Hammond area and SLU campus forced the game to be moved to Florence, where UNA (0-1) was a tremendous host, offering proceeds from Saturday’s game to the Southeastern program.
“This team showed it could handle adversity with the way it handled the pandemic in the spring and they proved it again tonight,” Southeastern head coach Frank Scelfo said. “Our guys will never forget this game and will always appreciate what it means to wear Southeastern across their chest and represent Southeastern Louisiana University, the city of Hammond, Tangipahoa Parish and the state of Louisiana.”
Southeastern faced adversity against a game host, trailing 21-20 midway through the third quarter. SLU turned it on from that point, outscoring the home-standing Lions, 28-7, over the final quarter and a half.
“North Alabama is a good football team and they were able to make some big plays against us,” Scelfo commented. “We played pretty well defensively in the first half, but we have to limit big plays as we get better. Our offense didn’t have a great start in the opening half, but really executed well after halftime. We didn’t play our best game today, so there’s a lot of things we’ll need to clean up moving forward.”
Reigning Walter Payton Award winner and SLU senior quarterback Cole Kelley led an efficient Southeastern attack that controlled the ball for nearly 37 minutes and converted 10-of-15 on third downs on the way to a 495-yard performance. Kelley finished 30-for-41 for 263 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for another score.
Kelley connected with 11 different receivers, as Nolan Givan, Austin Mitchell and Cephus Johnson III all caught touchdowns. Taron Jones led SLU’s 232-yard rushing attack, finishing with 11 carries for 85 yards and a touchdown. Johnson III also rushed for a score in Saturday’s win.
Alphonso Taylor led Southeastern with nine tackles, while Mike Mason, Tainano Gaulua and Arlen Williams each recorded a sack. Ferlando Jordan became the Southland Conference’s all-time leader with his fifth interception returned for a touchdown of his career.
Jaylen Gipson threw for 350 yards, four touchdowns and an interception on 23-for-46 passing for UNA. His top target was Takairee Kenebrew, who caught seven passes for 132 yards and three touchdowns. Southeastern limited the North Alabama running game, holding the Lions to 54 yards on the ground.
After the teams traded empty possessions to start the game, Southeastern got on the board on its final possession of the first quarter. A 31-yard reverse by Mitchell highlighted a seven-play, 67-yard scoring drive. Givan hauled in a four-yard pass from Kelley in the back of the end zone to give Southeastern a 7-0 lead with less than a minute left in the opening period.
Kelley lost a fumble at the SLU 29-yard line to give North Alabama its best scoring chance early in the second quarter. On the ensuing play, Gipson found a wide open Corson Swan from 29 yards out on a double reverse flea-flicker to knot the score at 7-7 with 13:03 left in the second quarter.
Southeastern answered with a methodical 17-play, 68-yard drive that took nearly seven minutes off the clock. Kelley found Mitchell on a quick slant to convert a fourth down and five in the red zone. On the next play, Johnson III grabbed a swing pass from Kelley and scampered in from 13 yards out to put SLU back on top, 14-7, with 6:12 left in the half.
North Alabama came right back, as Gipson found Kenebrew from 40 yards out to wrap up an eight-play, 75-yard scoring march and tie the score at 14-14 with 1:39 left in the second quarter.
After a SLU three-and-out, North Alabama mounted one last scoring threat to close out the half. However, Grayson Easterling’s 46-yard field goal at the end of the half sailed wide right to keep the score deadlocked at the end of the opening half.
Brennon Dingle took the opening kickoff of the second half 34 yards and a personal foul was tacked on to give Southeastern the ball in UNA territory. Seven plays later, Kelley found Mitchell from a yard out to put Southeastern back on top, 20-14, with 11:40 left in the third quarter.
North Alabama came right back to take its first lead. Gipson found Kenebrew on a 47-yard touchdown bomb to give UNA a 21-20 advantage with 9:37 left in the third quarter.
Southeastern answered right back on its next drive. Kelley found a wide-open CJ Turner for a 38-yard catch and run to set up a three-yard touchdown run by Taron Jones. Jones’ score punctuated a seven-play, 75-yard scoring drive that gave SLU a 27-21 lead with 6:37 left in the third quarter.
UNA drove into Southeastern territory on its ensuing drive, but SLU forced a punt that North Alabama downed at the Southeastern one-yard line. SLU doubled its lead with a 13-play, 99-yard scoring drive that took 6:29 off the clock. Kelley raced around right end for a nine-yard touchdown and then found Givan for a two-point conversion to put Southeastern ahead, 35-21, with 13:07 left in the contest.
Southeastern broke open the game on the next UNA drive, as Jordan stepped in front of a Gipson pass and raced 41 yards down the left sideline for his Southland Conference record-breaking fifth pick six of his career. The two-time All-American’s score gave SLU a commanding 42-21 advantage with 12:38 remaining.
UNA pulled closer on a 24-yard scoring pass from Gipson to Kenebrew with 10:21 left, but would get no closer. Johnson III put the capper on the game in the final minute, scoring from 15 yards out to put SLU up, 49-28, with 44 seconds left.
Saturday was the first three straight games away from home. Next Saturday, SLU travels to Louisiana Tech for a 6 p.m. game in Ruston. The game will be televised on ESPN3.
SLU – 7 7 13 22 – 49 (1-0)
UNA – 0 14 7 7 – 28 (0-1)
SLU – Givan 4 pass from Kelley (Rengifo kick), 0:43
UNA – Swan 29 pass from Gipson (Easterling kick), 13:03
SLU – Johnson III 13 pass from Kelley (Rengifo kick), 6:12
UNA – Kenebrew 40 pass from Gipson (Easterling kick), 1:39
SLU – Mitchell 1 pass from Kelley (Rengifo kick failed), 11:40
UNA – Kenebrew 47 pass from Gipson (Easterling kick), 9:37
SLU – T. Jones 3 run (Rengifo kick), 6:37
SLU – Kelley 9 run (Givan pass from Kelley), 13:07
SLU – Jordan 41 interception return (Rengifo kick), 12:38
UNA – Kenebrew 24 pass from Gipson (Easterling kick), 10:21
SLU – Johnson III 15 run (Rengifo kick), 0:44
FIRST DOWNS 30 23
RUSHES-YARDS (NET) 35-232 17-54
PASSING YDS (NET) 263 350
Passes Att-Comp-Int 42-30-0 46-23-1
TOTAL OFFENSE PLAYS-YARDS 77-495 63-404
Fumble Returns-Yards 0-0 0-0
Kickoff Returns-Yards 4-100 2-42
Punt Returns-Yards 1-0 0-0
Interception Returns-Yards 1-41 0-0
Punts (Number-Avg) 3-35.3 4-44.5
Fumbles-Lost 2-1 2-0
Penalties-Yards 11-106 7-75
Possession Time. 36:49 23:11
Third-Down Conversions 10-of-15 3-of-11
Fourth-Down Conversions 1-of-1 2-of-3
Red Zone Scores-Chances 6-6 0-0
RUSHING: SLU – T. Jones 11-85, Kelley 9-43, Mitchell 3-42, Johnson III 3-22, Wilson Jr. 2-16, Dingle 2-12, Carter 1-7, Britt 4-5. Totals – 35-232. UNA – Gipson 7-22, Driggers 6-19, Powell 3-14, Carson 1-(-1). Totals – 17-54.
PASSING: SLU – Kelley 30-41-0-263-3, Johnson III 0-1-0-0-0. Totals – 30-42-0-263-3. UNA – Gipson 23-46-1-350-4. Totals – 23-46-1-350-4.
RECEIVING: SLU – Givan 5-37, Mitchell 5-35, Dingle 4-33, T. Jones 4-21, Turner 3-52, Magee 3-20, Wilson Jr. 2-27, Johnson III 1-13, Larvadain 1-11, Britt 1-11, Dawson 1-3. Totals – 30-263. UNA – Kennebrew 7-132, Boykin 4-58, Hall 4-53, Driggers 4-44, Swan 3-56, Price 1-7. Totals – 23-350.
A – 3,433.