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The Nicholls State University football team used an outstanding defensive effort paired with a few big plays on offense to defeat rival Southeastern, 21-16, Thursday night in Strawberry Stadium in the annual River Bell Classic.
With the victory, Nicholls wraps up the regular season with a 6-4 overall mark and a perfect record in league play to claim the Southland title outright. The win also evens the all-time series against SLU (3-8) after the Colonels won their third consecutive game in Hammond.
The Colonels led 21-13 early in the third quarter after Jaylon Spears caught a short pass on third-and-long, and turned it into a highlight 73-yard touchdown catch. The defense then came up with big stop after big stop, forcing three field goal tries by the Lions. The first miss by Riley Callaghan was wide left in the third quarter before he made a 30-yarder following an interception. Then in the fourth, Nicholls faced a 1st-and-Goal from the 6 and kept the Lions out of the end zone again, and Callaghan’s field goal ricocheted off the upright.
The Lions got the ball back one more time with two minutes remaining, but sacks on third and fourth downs ended the comeback attempt. Zack Bernard and Perry Ganci teamed up for the first one before Jacob Parker secured the victory with the team’s third and final sack.
The defense limited Southeastern to 218 yards of total offense and 2 of 16 on third downs. The only touchdown for the Lions was on a fake field goal that put them up 7-0 after their opening possession.
After rushing for over 300 yards in each of the last two games, the offense was led by quarterback Pat McQuaide who completed 20 of 25 passes for 300 yards and two touchdowns, and his rushing score evened up the game early in the second quarter. On the next Colonel possession, McQuaide hooked up with wide open David Robinson Jr. who raced down the sideline, made one defender miss, and finished off a career-long 78-yard touchdown catch.
Southeastern reached the red zone twice before the break but had to settle for two Callaghan field goals, making the score 14-13 Colonels.
In the third, Spears made the play of the night with some help from his blockers. Facing a 3rd-and-21, McQuaide dumped it off to the redshirt sophomore on a swing pass and he evaded half of the Lion defense with a cutback, sprinted down the sideline and made another cut inside and outraced the rest of the defenders for a 73-yard touchdown.
The short field goal by SLU in the third were the final points of the night.
Playing shorthanded already without linebacker Hayden Shaheen, the Nicholls defense lost two other starters when linebacker Quinton Sharkey and safety Tyler Morton were ejected for targeting in the first half. Eli Ennis and Brandon Lairy stepped up for 15 combined tackles with 2 tackles for loss while seniors Perry Ganci and Jacob Parker had seven stops each and a combined 4.5 TFLs. Safety Keontae Williams also had a big game with six tackles, a sack and a pass breakup.
Spears ran the ball 14 times for 58 yards while Collin Guggenheim totaled 12 carries for 47.
Nicholls will find out its first-round opponent for the FCS playoffs on Sunday during the selection show.