HAMMOND – About the only thing Frank Scelfo’s home coaching debut with Southeastern Louisiana didn’t feature was a win for the Lions.
There were big plays for Central Arkansas, injuries to key players, an ejection, a goal-line stand and a 99-yard drive for the Lions. And oh yes, don’t forget about that lightning delay -- all of which added up to a 33-25 SLU loss to the No. 17 Bears at Strawberry Stadium in a game that ended just after midnight Sunday morning.
“I looked around on the sidelines, and I didn’t see anybody’s head hanging and (anybody) saying ‘We’re out of this thing. We’re done,’” Scelfo said. “They continued to compete and (were) playing hard, and that’s what we want them to do. We’ve just got to do a better job so we can come out with a win. That’s what I want to do is come out with a win.”
SLU lost Lorenzo Nunez, Matthew Wright and Kyle Strickland to injuries and Tamarcus Russell to an ejection for targeting.
With the Lions holding on to a 7-6 lead, the teams put together a flurry of scoring just before halftime.
The Bears (2-1, 1-0 Southland Conference) stopped Southeastern on downs, allowing UCA to take over at its own 14 with 3:01 to play in the first half. UCA quarterback Breylin Smith hit Lester Walls for 17 yards and Smith scrambled on the next play, on which Russell was called for targeting while making the tackle, drawing an ejection and moving the ball to the SLU 47.
Three plays later, Smith hit Cedric Battle, who cut left, worked the sideline and worked his way back across the field on a 40-yard TD catch to give the Bears a 13-7 lead with 49 seconds to play before halftime.
“It’s a story of the explosive plays that they were able to make, and we didn’t make any,” Scelfo said after the Lions outgained UCA 496-443 in total yardage. “We didn’t have any explosive plays. We didn’t do anything as far as guys making plays for us when we had jump balls or 50-50 balls or had guys open and we just missed them.”
The Lions (0-3, 0-1) answered with an 8-play, 54-yard scoring drive that was capped by Jonathan Tatum’s 41-yard field goal on the final play of the first half, which cut the lead to 13-10.
That scoring trend continued to open the second half as the Bears used a six-play, 84-yard scoring drive. The big play was a 58-yard pass from Smith to Brandon Myers, which set up Carlos Blackman’s 2-yard TD run for a 20-10 advantage with 12:13 to go in the third quarter.
“With the coverages we were in, we should have been OK in a couple of those explosive plays, and we had breakdowns in the coverage,” Scelfo said. “We’ve got to go back and we’ve got to teach them, we’ve got to learn them … and we’ve got to be able to do things we’re supposed to do.”
UCA padded the lead when Darren Johnson lost a fumble on the Lions’ next drive, allowing the Bears to take over at the Lion 25. Three plays later, Smith hit Jakari Dillard on a 15-yard TD for a 27-10 lead.
“Those turnovers are critical, and you can’t turn the football over against a good football team,” Scelfo said after the Lions lost two fumbles and an interception. “We turned it over and we got none. When that happens like that, it’s hard to win football games. I don’t care who you play. But when you play good football teams like Central Arkansas, you’re not going to win.”
SLU got to the UCA 27 on the ensuing drive before turning the ball over on downs but cut into the lead later in the quarter as Virgil, who went 26-for-51 for 384 yards and a TD, hit Juwan Petit-Frere on passes of 15 yards and 16 yards to get to the Bears’ 3.
After Marcus Cooper was dropped for a 4-yard loss on first down, the Bears were flagged for pass interference in the end zone, setting up Cooper’s two-yard TD run, cutting the lead to 27-17.
UCA struck quickly as Smith hit a wide-open Myers on a 61-yard TD pass on the first play of the fourth quarter. The PAT was blocked, making the score 33-17.
Myers finished with four catches for 170 yards and two TDs, while Smith was 22-for-31 for 329 yards and four TDs.
Central Arkansas’ Trai Mosley picked off Virgil on the next SLU drive, and the Bears later got to the SLU 21 before a lightning delay with 7:29 to play in the game.
Coming out of the delay, which lasted an hour and 17 minutes, the Bears moved the ball to the SLU 5, but the Lions stopped Kierre Crossley three times before Smith threw incomplete to Wells on fourth down.
The Lions took over, putting together a 10-play, 99-yard drive, which was capped by an 11-yard TD pass from Virgil to Bransen Schwebel, and the duo connected again on a two-point pass for the final margin with 1:24 to play.
The big plays on the drive were a 20-yard strike from Virgil to Schwebel and a 68-yard pass to Petit-Frere, which got SLU to the UCA 11.
“The only way for us to win was to go 99, but first, before that happened, we had to stop them on the goal-line,” Scelfo said.
“We stopped them. That tells you a lot about our guys. Then we went 99 right after that. That tells you a lot. Then we have to make a two-point conversion, and we did that. And the on-side, kick, we touched it a yard short.”
The Lions just missed recovering the onside kick, allowing the Bears to run out the clock.
During the final drive, the Lions lost Strickland, who was carted off for precautionary reasons.
The Lions scored on the game’s first drive, going 75 yards on 11 plays.
Virgil hit CJ Turner on a 39-yard pass to get the Lions to the UCA 31 on the third play of the game, and Virgil later broke a 16-yard run to the UCA 13.
An unsportsmanlike conduct call against the Bears moved the ball to the UCA 8, setting up Johnson’s 2-yard TD run two plays later. Jonathan Tatum’s PAT put the Lions up 7-0 with 11 minutes to play in the opening quarter.
The Lions lost a fumble, but the Bears couldn’t capitalize as the Lion defense forced a punt as both defenses settled in with SLU netting 119 yards on 22 plays in the first quarter and UCA getting 35 yards on 15 plays.
Both teams turned the ball over on downs to start the second quarter, and the Lions were called for a personal foul, and the Bears cashed in two plays later as Breylin Smith connected with Brandon Myers on a 43-yard TD. The PAT was botched, leaving the Lions ahead 7-6 with 9:49 to play in the first half.