ABILENE, TEXAS – Chason Virgil threw two touchdown passes and an opportunistic defense powered Southeastern Louisiana University to a 35-14 win over Abilene Christian University in a Southland Conference game Saturday afternoon at Wildcat Stadium.
A week after shocking Central Arkansas 34-0 on the road to force a four-way tie for first place in the Southland, the Lions (7-3 overall and 6-2 in league) intercepted Wildcat quarterbacks six times, recorded 10 sacks and built a 35-7 lead by scoring three times in the last 2:36 of the first half.
ACU fell to 5-6 overall and 4-5 in the Southand, and senior running back Tracy James’s 11-game scoring streak came to an end in the Wildcats’ home finale. A year after Abilene Christian rolled up 612 yards of offense in a 48-27 win in Hammond, the Wildcats could manage just 248 yards and only 48 on the ground against SLU.
Abilene Christian held the Lions scoreless in the second half but was stymied by four turnovers in the final two quarters, and six overall.
Chason completed 19 of 30 passes for 204 yards and running back Devonte Williams rushed for 48 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Lions on offense. Wide receiver Kobe Clark caught six passes for 104 yards for ACU, moving into second place in the school record book for single-season receptions.
ACU found itself in a 14-0 hole after being held scoreless in the opening quarter for the fifth time in seven weeks and sixth time this season, and rallied to make the score 14-7. But its trajectory was dashed by a 21-0 run by SLU in the final minutes of the first half.
The Lions moved smartly downfield on their first possession to take a 7-0 lead, with Devonte Williams rushing for 31 of the 66 yards, capping the drive with a 6-yard run.
Sema’J Davis’ second pass of the game for ACU was picked off by free safety Donniel Ward-McGee and returned 29 yards to the Lion 4. Two plays and 35 seconds after the turnover, Virgil connected with tight end Matt DeBlaiso on a 53-yard touchdown pass to put SLU up 14-0.
ACU’s next drive was ended by another turnover, an interception of Luke Anthony by cornerback Shawntrez Spates at the Lion 45-yard line. The Wildcat defense turned SLU away, as it did on the Lions’ next drive, which ended when Bryce Broussard missed a 28-yard field goal with just under nine minutes left in the second quarter.
The Wildcats bounced back on the subsequent drive when Davis ran 2 yards for a touchdown with 6:06 left before halftime. The score was made possible by a 62-yard catch and run by wide receiver Josh Fink following a pass from Davis, and pulled ACU closer, 14-7.
The Lions were handed a short field when Blair Zepeda’s ensuing kickoff sailed out of bounds at the ACU 37-yard line. SLU navigated the distance in eight plays, capped when Virgil ran untouched for a TD with 2:36 left in the half to put his team up 21-7.
After another Wildcat punt, SLU raced 53 yards in four passing plays plus another scoring run by Williams, this one a 9-yarder. The drive elapsed just 55 seconds and extended the visitors’ lead to 28-7 with 53 seconds left in the quarter.
Four plays later, defensive back Justin Douglas blocked Simon Laryea’s punt deep in Wildcat territory, and defensive back Jacob Williams recovered at the ACU 12 with 27 seconds left. That was enough time for SLU to strike once more, with wide receiver Javon Conner catching a 4-yard TD pass from Virgil with 5 seconds remaining.
The 35-7 halftime deficit was ACU’s largest of the season since being down 38-10 to North Texas in the first game. The Wildcats managed just five first downs, 10 yards of rushing and 131 yards of offense in the first two quarters against SLU, while the Lions rolled up 305 yards of offense.
The third quarter was scoreless for both teams, marred by three turnovers, a blocked punt and a missed field goal, and just 121 yards of offense.
ACU attempted a return to the scoreboard on its first drive of the second half, but Zepeda’s 38-yard field goal was wide left.
Davis threw his second interception of the afternoon, a pick by defensive back Xavier Lewis, with 3:18 left in the third quarter. The Lions gave the ball right back three plays later when ACU defensive back Adonis Davis forced and recovered a fumble by Lorenzo Nunez at the Lion 34-yard line.
Two plays later, the turnover bug bit ACU again as an Anthony pass was intercepted in the end zone by Ward-McGee. On the ensuing drive, Wildcat defensive tackle Lakendrick Jones blocked Austin Dunlap’s punt.
This time, however, ACU converted the turnover into points when Davis found tight end Branden Hohenstein for a 15-yard scoring pass with 12:38 left in the game. The TD cut the Lion lead to 35-14.
Davis threw his second interception of the game when Lion Tré Spann broke up the pass and picked it at the SLU 29-yard line with 10:12 left. Davis’ third interception was thrown to Spann as well, this time on the Lion 48 with 6:11 remaining.
A sophomore, Davis completed 11 of 19 passes for 195 yards and one score, but was intercepted three times. He was ACU’s leading rusher as well, with 33 yards on 17 carries. Josh Fink caught four passes for 89 yards.
Williams led SLU in rushing with 48 yards and two TDs on nine carries, and CJ Turner caught seven passes for 74 yards.
Jeremiah Chambers led ACU defenders with 8.5 tackles.
ACU concludes its season next Saturday with a non-conference game on the road at Mississippi State. Kickoff is at 6:30 p.m. in Davis-Wade Stadium at Scott Field.