HAMMOND — When starting running back Michael Chaney went down with a season-ending knee injury two weeks ago, Southeastern Louisiana football coach Ron Roberts turned to two freshmen to pick up the load.
He converted Xavier Roberson from cornerback to tailback and burned the redshirt on Rasheed Harrell. That move paid off Saturday as the duo combined for 132 rushing yards in the Lions’ 27-22 victory over Northwestern State at Strawberry Stadium.
Roberson’s second touchdown, which came in the third quarter, proved to be the game-winner as it put SLU (3-4, 3-0 Southland Conference) ahead by two scores, a deficit the Demons (3-4, 1-2) failed to overcome.
“To be honest, I never thought I’d play running back (in college),” Roberson said. “I thought I was too small, but I’ve got the heart of a giant.”
With a rushing attack that ranked last in the Southland heading into Saturday’s game, the Lions surpassed their season average by almost 100 yards, and appear as if they’re overcoming their early-season struggles.
“It’s getting better, but it’s a process,” Roberts said. “Obviously we’re still not where we need to be. When you’ve got two freshmen, they’re going to make mistakes, but today everybody else saw what we’ve seen — that they can take it to the house.”
SLU remained the only undefeated team in the Southland. The Lions have an open week before returning to action against Central Arkansas on Oct. 27.
“It’s a huge confidence builder,” said SLU quarterback Nathan Stanley. “We get one more week, where someone in the conference has to lose. We get to be well-rested for UCA.”
“Give credit to Southeastern, they made the plays to win the game and we didn’t, period. We had opportunities we did not convert, we had plays in all three phases we did not make, and some of the reason why was that Southeastern made more plays than we did,” said Demons coach Bradley Dale Peveto.
Stanley maintained the steady play he’s shown all season, completing 17-of-27 passes for 208 yards and a touchdown. His only interception came in the first quarter on an underthrown ball thrown into a stiff wind.
Stanley completed passes to 10 receivers, including a 4-yard touchdown pass to Jerry Anderson in the first quarter for SLU’s initial score.
Stanley has also had the help of his offensive line, which hasn’t allowed a sack in three Southland Conference games.
“We’re protecting (Stanley), keeping him upright,” Roberts said. “That’s huge. We’re more efficient, but there’s a lot of room for improvement.”
After the Demons notched a field goal on their opening possession, which stalled in the SLU red zone, Stanley led a 15-play, 75-yard drive capped by the TD pass to Anderson.
The Lions added to their lead early in the second quarter with the first of two Roberson touchdown runs. Stanley completed two passes for 33 yards to set up the 34-yard TD by Roberson — the first of his career.
“It was a great feeling,” Roberson said. “Coach prepared us well. The offensive line did a good job. It was just open.”
The Demons responded with a 75-yard touchdown drive, capped by a 4-yard pass from Brad Henderson to Corey Simmons. A missed extra point kept the Lions ahead by five.
SLU drove to the Demon 5 but had to settle for a field goal, taking a 17-9 lead into halftime.
“It wasn’t as big of a point differential (as it could have been),” Roberts said. “We go down there and kick field goals, which is nice to get points on the board, but if those are touchdowns, it’s not near as close.”
SLU tacked on another field goal with its opening possession of the second half after Robert Alford came up with his third interception of the season on Northwestern’s opening series.
The Demons kept it close with a 92-yard touchdown drive, aided by 40 yards in penalties. Henderson threw his second TD pass of the game, a 30-yarder to Daniel Taylor, to make it 20-15 midway through the third quarter.
The team traded three-and-outs before Roberson recorded his second score of the game on an 11-yard touchdown run.
The Demons managed to score once more, an 8-yard run by Henderson, but failed to regain the lead as time expired on its final possession.
The SLU defense recorded six sacks and held the Demons to just 58 yards rushing.
“Their defense whipped us up front, and when you’re dominated at the line of scrimmage, it’s hard to run the ball. That was a big factor,” Peveto said. “Some of the sacks were protection issues, and on others we might have held the ball too long, and that we won’t know until we see the tape. But you can’t get sacked like that and be successful.”
“Northwestern’s a real good team,” Stanley said. “I have to give them credit. Our defense showed up today. They put a lot of pressure on them and made it rough for them.”
contributed to this report.
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