Southeastern-McNeese State Javon Conner

McNeese defensive back Jovon Burriss trips up Southeastern wide receiver Javon Conner in the first half last Saturday at Cowboy Stadium in Lake Charles. 

HAMMOND – The Southeastern Louisiana football team dropped its first Southland Conference game on the road last week against McNeese State.

Now the No. 23/25 Lions are hoping to get a little homecoming payback, hosting Incarnate Word at 4 p.m. Saturday at Strawberry Stadium.

“We’re at home,” Scelfo said. “We’ve got to hold serve. In this conference, you’ve got to hold serve. You’ve got to make people that travel to your place pay for getting on the road.”

The game will be televised on ESPN+ and will also air on the Southeastern Sports Radio Network (KSLU-FM (90.9), Kajun 107.1 FM, The Highway 104.7 FM and The Boss 103.7 FM/1400 AM WFPR), online at www.LionSports.net/listenlive and via the Radio FX and TuneIn Radio apps.

Incarnate Word (3-2, 2-1) is the defending Southland Conference co-champion and is the third playoff team from last season to travel to Southeastern (3-2, 2-1).

The Cardinals are coming off a 38-36 win over Houston Baptist and are fifth in the SLC in total offense, averaging 435.6 yards per game. Quarterback Jon Copeland is fifth in the conference in total offense, averaging 266.4 yards per game, while running backs Kevin Brown (60.2 ypg, TD) and Ameer King (58.2 ypg, TD) rank eighth and ninth, respectively, in the league in rushing.

“They’re going to run the football,” Scelfo said. “They do a good job of that, but the quarterback, between running and throwing on the run and throwing in the pocket, he’s just such a weapon. Once he gets out and takes off, he can make stuff happen.”

Scelfo said the Lions will have to be sound in their technique on defense when it comes to Copeland.

“The big thing for him is you’ve got to keep him in the pocket and you’ve got to tackle him," Scelfo said, "because he’s a strong kid, so even when you get your arms around him a lot of times, he squirts out, and then when that happens, all hell breaks loose, to tell you the truth. He can make some plays. He did it against us last year as a true freshman.”

In last season’s game, UIW scored a 52-34 win with Copeland throwing for 411 yards and three touchdowns, something Scelfo hasn’t forgotten.

“He’s a gunslinger,” Scelfo said of Copeland, who has nine TD passes this season. “When you watch him play, he’ll look once, look twice – boom – he’s gone, or he feels pressure and takes off. The receivers just get in sync with him, and he finds somebody. He’s not scared to make any throw. He can make any throw. He’s got a good enough arm.

“A lot of times, a quarterback will scramble and he’s looking at defenders to see where he’s got to go or when he’s got to get down. He doesn’t do that. His eyes go down the field, which is the mark of a good player – instinctive guy. He takes off and when he scrambles, his eyes are looking for offensive guys to get the ball to …”

Southeastern, meanwhile, ranks seventh in the SLC in total offense, giving up 445.4 ypg behind leading tackler linebacker Alexis Ramos (40 tackles). But a key focus for Scelfo remains turnover margin where the Lions rank 10th in the league at (minus-4).

“We’ve got guys that tackle, but we’ve got to get guys that attack the football,” Scelfo said. “We’ve got to be more physical on defense. When we swarm to the football, we’ve got to go hit people. We’re not punishing enough people defensively. We’ve got to do a better job of that, and when you do that, when you’re attacking, balls are going to pop loose, and then we’ve got to get those strips in there. That’s what we’re looking to do.

“We’re wrapping up when we’re taking people to ground,” Scelfo continued. “We’ve got to do more than that. We’ve got to be more physical, and we’ve got to attack people and pound them. You’re sore after a game on Sunday, so we feel sore on Sunday. We’ve got make them feel us on Monday and Tuesday, and we’re not doing that right now.”

Southeastern is third in the SLC in total offense (450 ypg), while quarterback Chason Virgil (117-183-4, 1,445 yds., 10 TDs) is second in passing average per game (289 ypg). Receivers Austin Mitchell (22-408, 4 TDs) and CJ Turner (25-308, 3 TDs) are his top targets, while Devonte Williams (52-183, 3 TDs) and Taron Williams (24-139, 2 TDs) lead the Lions on the ground.

They’ll face a UIW defense led by Mar’Kel Cooks (30 tackles), that is 10th in the league in total defense, giving up 383.6 yards per game but leads the Southland with nine interceptions.

“I think their front three is very active, and they do a good job on gaps, so we’re going to have to do a good job controlling that and identifying,” Scelfo said. “They’ll got between a 3-4 and 4-3 at times, so our offensive line’s going to have to be really wide-eyed and be able to distinguish between the two and make the calls accordingly.”

For Scelfo, the main goal is getting back into the win column.

“We’ve got a lot of confidence right now, and our players feel that, and our players feel that, and we want to continue doing what we’re doing because we feel like we’re on the right path,” Scelfo said.

“The opportunities for us, every goal that we had, everything that we wanted to do this season, is still in place,” Scelfo continued. “We’ve got to do what we’ve got to do right here in Strawberry Stadium, and by doing that, and when we take care of that, we’ll be where we want to be.”

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