Southeastern Preview

The road has been a potholed ride for the revived Southeastern Louisiana's football program, dormant from 1985-2003.

The Lions are just 6-25 since returning to the field, and 1-6 over the past two seasons, away from in Hammond.

No wonder they spent $12 million renovating Strawberry Stadium.

Louisiana Tech, meanwhile, enters Saturday's 37th meeting against SLU with a commanding series lead over its former Gulf States Conference rival, boasting a 15-3-2 all-time mark in Ruston.

These two most recently faced off, however, 23 seasons ago.

It seems at least that long since Tech last played at The Joe.

The Bulldogs are returning after a game at Kansas and a bye week, then will have another layover before opening Western Athletic Conference play against Boise State on Oct. 1 -- 10 days, since that game is played on a Wednesday. Tech will also be off for nine days before traveling to Hawaii on Oct. 11.

"Obviously, it's going to be a big challenge for our team," said second-year Louisiana Tech coach Derek Dooley. "It's important for us to come out and play with the kind of energy and enthusiasm that we should have, and put a greater premium on execution."

Dooley paid close attention to the Football Championship Subdivision program's gritty win last week over South Dakota, a newly christened Division I program from the Great West Conference.

"They've got some dangerous skill guys, especially the running back Jay Lucas, who is an All-American for them," Dooley said. "It's going to be good challenge for us, coming off open date. Hopefully, we can come out and play well."

Sophomore SLU linebacker Mark Newbill, a product of Monroe's Neville High, forced a fumble on the potential game-winning two-point conversion, allowing the Lions to hold off a late South Dakota rally.

The 31-30 victory opened SLU's home slate, and pushed the Lions to 2-1 overall. Perhaps just as importantly, the Lions have finally snapped a 12-game road losing streak dating back to the end of the 2005 season, winning in Week 1 over Alcorn State.

The team's lone stumble was in early September against upper-division foe Mississippi State, which was then coming off an upset loss to Louisiana Tech.

Junior quarterback Brian Babin appears to be rounding back into shape, having been out of the lineup since suffering a concussion on the final play of the first half against Alcorn. Last week, Babin completed 27-of-44 attempts for two scores and a career-high 330 yards.

"I thought Brian played the best game he's played as a starter," second-year SLU coach Mike Lucas said. "I was very proud of him for coming back so soon from that concussion and playing so well."

Junior wide receiver Chris Wilson caught 11 of those passes for 101 yards against South Dakota, while fellow junior Krishna Muhammad made seven catches for 84 yards and a touchdown.

The team's offensive centerpiece, however, is senior running back Jay Lucas, who was all over the field against South Dakota. He rushed 21 times for 95 yards and two TDs, while making four catches for 94 yards and another score.

Along the way, he became just the fifth player (and first running back) in SLU history to notch 100 career receptions. He needs less than 1,000 yards to become the program's all-time leading rusher.

Newbill led the Lions with 13 stops, and joined Babin in earning Southland Conference player of the week honors. Newbill's previous season-high was six tackles at Mississippi State, where he also recovered a fumble.

"We did not start Mark," Mike Lucas said. Junior linebacker "Keithshone Dantzler got the start because he had played better in the Mississippi State game. Mark came in and was playing really well so we left him in."

Junior SLU defensive back Tommy Connors also had 12 tackles against South Dakota.

"Southeastern is a very dangerous football team," Dooley said. "Coach Lucas has done a good job. They have lots of team speed, and are very physical. They give great effort, and that's a sign of good coaching."

Notes: Former members of the defunct Gulf States Conference, Tech leads the overall series with SLU 27-7-2. … Tech is promoting breast cancer awareness during Saturday game, hoping to raise money for the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. Dooley's mother had breast cancer, as his did his wife's mom. "We wanted to do anything we could to help," he said, "just because it's so personal to our family." … Southeastern revived its football program in 2003 under the direction of head coach Hal Mumme, now coaching at Tech's WAC foe New Mexico State.

Southeastern La. At Louisiana Tech

Kickoff: 6 p.m. Saturday

Stadium: Joe Aillet, Ruston

TV: ESPN Regional. Radio/streaming: KXKZ 107.5-FM/www. z1075fm.com

Gametracker: latechsports.cstv.com


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