Information provided by SLU Athletics
HAMMOND – The defending Southland Conference champion Southeastern Louisiana football team, ranked No. 3 in both Football Championship Subdivision polls, will officially open the 2014 season on Saturday, hosting Jacksonville at 7 p.m. in Strawberry Stadium.
Southeastern, which is ranked higher than it has been in over 50 years, returns 15 preseason All-Southland Conference players and is coming off an 11-3 finish, as well as its first-ever playoff appearance. Jacksonville, which competes in the Pioneer Football League, is coming off a 5-6 season in 2013.
The game will be broadcast live in the Hammond area on the flagship station of Southeastern Football, KSLU-FM (90.9), as well as affiliates and Northshore Broadcasting stations Kajun 107.1 FM (WHMD) and The Highway 104.7 FM (WJSH).
LionVision subscribers will also access a live video stream at LionSports.net.
The first 200 students at Saturday's game will receive free t-shirts and fans are encouraged to wear green. From 4-6 p.m., former American Idol contestant and Ponchatoula native Lindsey Cardinale will provide a pregame concert in Friendship Circle. The Storm30 initiative will return for the second season, as fans are encouraged to enter the stadium 30 minutes prior to kickoff to enjoy pregame entertainment and pack the stands for the entrance of the Lions.
“We're excited to get started,” Southeastern head coach Ron Roberts said. “We've had a good fall camp and we're ready to test ourselves against a good opponent. We are fortunate to have the opportunity to open our season at home and we're expecting an electric atmosphere Saturday night in Strawberry Stadium.”
The Southeastern offense is led by Walter Payton Award candidate and senior quarterback Bryan Bennett. The reigning Southland Conference Player, Louisiana Offensive Player and Louisiana Newcomer of the Year is looking to build on a monster 2013 season that saw him throw for 3,165 yards and 21 touchdowns, while also rushing for a team-high 1,046 yards and a single-season school record 16 touchdowns.
Bennett is surrounded by proven veterans on the offensive side of the ball. First team preseason All-Southland Conference selection Rasheed Harrell (640 yards, eight touchdowns in 2013) leads a junior running back trio that includes Kody Sutton and Darrius Guy.
Junior wide receiver Jeff Smiley (57 catches, 744 yards, six touchdowns) is the top returner among a deep receiving corps that will be bolstered by first team all-conference all-purpose performer Xavier Roberson making the switch from running back to wide receiver. Clearing the way for the SLU playmakers will be a veteran offensive line led by preseason all-league performers Joe Graves and Jonathan Braddock.
The Lions will be facing a Jacksonville defense that allowed 447.5 yards and 34.1 points per contest in 2013. Junior defensive lineman Maroa White (55 tackles, nine sacks) and senior linebacker Mike Klein (76 tackles) are the top returners for the Dolphin defense.
Led by Buck Buchanan Award candidate and junior defensive back Harlan Miller, a loaded Southeastern defense includes eight preseason All-Southland performers. Senior defensive end Jacob Newman and junior defensive end A.J. Bowen bolster the line, while a deep linebacker group features a quartet of seniors all-league players in Isiah Corbett, Drew Misita, Kaleb Muse and Justin Church.
Miller is one of three All-Southland performers in a dynamic secondary, along with seniors Tyler Stoddard and Marice Sutton. Saturday will see the Lion debut of a quartet of talented defensive backs – junior Jordan Batiste, sophomore Derrick Raymond, junior Micah Eugene and junior JQ Sandolph.
The SLU defense will be charged with slowing down a JU offense that returns eight starters from what was one of FCS' most prolific offenses in 2013. Jacksonville ranked among the national leaders a season ago with 41.8 points and 522.7 yards per game. Junior quarterback Kade Bell (2,397 yards passing, 25 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 2013), senior wide receiver Andrew Robustelli (51 catches, 1,063 yards, 11 TD) and senior wide receiver D'Andre Randle (50 catches, 865 yards, 9 TD) are the top returners for the Dolphins.
The Lion special teams units are led by Roberson, who was the nation's top kick returner a season ago, leading FCS with 35.2 yards per kickoff return and three kickoff return touchdowns. Senior punt returner Devante Scott, senior place-kicker Ryan Adams and junior punter Tim Callian will all see their debuts in starting roles on Saturday.
Saturday's game will be the first of two home games to open the 2014 campaign for the Lions. Next Saturday, the Lions welcome Southern Utah for a 7 p.m. contest that will feature two 2013 FCS playoffs teams.
The game will be broadcast live in the Hammond area on the flagship station of Southeastern Football, KSLU-FM (90.9), as well as affiliates and Northshore Broadcasting stations Kajun 107.1 FM (WHMD) and The Highway 104.7 FM (WJSH). LionVision subscribers will also access a live video stream at LionSports.net.
The Southeastern Channel will also air the game on tape delay. The first 200 students will receive free t-shirts and fans are encouraged to wear white. The Michael Brandt Band will provide pre-game entertainment from 4-6 p.m. in Friendship Circle. Single-game tickets for the contest are available by contacting the Southeastern Athletics Ticket Office at (985) 549-5466 or visiting LionSports.net and LionUp.com.