Bryan Bennett made Sports Center, but the dream ended for him and the Southeastern Louisiana State as they fell 20-17 to New Hampshire in the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs Saturday night at Strawberry Stadium in Hammond, Louisiana.
The former Duck quarterback's wild, scrambling, touchdown pass to Marquis Fruge' was the #1 highlight in ESPN's Top Ten Plays, but the Lions were eliminated when Wildcat quarterback Sean Goldrich scored on a 2-yard keeper with 47 seconds to go in the game.
Bennett drove his team 80 yards in 14 plays to take a 17-14 lead with 5:12 left, throwing the miraculous td to Fruge' on 4th and 5, but NH answered with an 80-yard drive of their own for the win (Kevin Jairaj, USA Today Sports Images).
With :43 seconds to work with, the former Crespi High star got the Lions to the visitors' 43, 3rd and 3 with two seconds left. A running play went for a first down, but time ran out with SELU on the 35, no time to attempt a tying field goal. They'd missed from 37 yards in the first quarter, and another first period drive ended when Bennett was intercepted at the New Hampshire 8 on 4th and 14.
The junior quarterback led an 81-yard drive on the game's first possession for an 7-0 lead, scoring on a zone-read keeper from the two. For the game he was 25-46 passing for 269 yards, with 12 carries for 29 yards on the ground, accounting for two tds with the one interception.
New Hampshire, Chip Kelly's old squad, moves on to face two-time defending FCS Champion North Dakota State in the semi-finals Friday December 20th, a night game on ESPN 2 from the Fargo Dome in Fargo, North Dakota. The Bison are 13-0 and ranked #1.
It was the first trip ever to the playoffs for Southeastern, who finished the season 11-3, setting a school record for victories after going 5-6 last season. Head coach Ron Roberts told lionsports.net, "I'm extremely proud of what our program was able to accomplish this season and I think the future is extremely bright. To get our first taste of playoff competition is something that is obviously going to benefit our returners."
Bennett's likely to lead those returners, though he is technically eligible to declare for the NFL draft. A week ago he engineered an 85-yard drive in the final 1:29 for a 30-29 win over Sam Houston in the second round of the playoffs, but the magic fell just short this week. For the season he was 215-354 passing (60.7%) for 3,165 yards, 21 tds and 11 interceptions, also the team's leading rusher with 183 carries for 1,046 yards, 5.7 per carry, 16 tds.
Jake Rodriguez is a better Tim Tebow who actually can throw and he needs to stay, He's a little bit slower than Marcus but he's not injury prone and a lot bigger and can take the Hits for an option spread QB, so when you get 100% of the reps in practice it does tend to make a difference on the field so I hope he sticks it out and works his rearend off in the off season as well as the rest of this Team if indeed they want to get to that coveted 4 Team playoff, 1 thing that was lacking last year were leaders, and Marcus needs to step up BIG in that category for this Team not to repeat 2013 let down, and I think Coach will have learned some valuable things also, SPEED up the Tempo a little and tell your players to let their play do the TALKING ON THE FIELD not to the media.
I hope Brian Bennett has a great year next year. This makes me think of what happens this winter at Oregon. MM is back and that is great. Do we keep Jeff Lockie, Jake Rodriguez, Damien Hobbs, Morgan Mahalak? I guess that Mahalak commits and perhaps red shirts. So the question is do we lose Lockie or Rodriguez or Hobbs or two of the three or all three?
It was nice to get to see BB play. There are several weaknesses (based on the one game sample) that need to be addressed (most notably the defense's inability to force NH to punt) for SELU to win more consistently. Rebuilding takes several seasons and hopefully Bennett will get surrounded by better players and/or execution. His play-making ability is impressive, but he still seems to throw inconsistently. That plus drops by receivers ended several drives. Hopefully next year it will all come together for SELU so they can have a shot at the FCS Championship.
4th and 14 the 8 yard line-that is when you know things are going bad. Sometimes it seems like you will never get there.