Hammond, LA (SportsNetwork.com) - Bryan Bennett's 1-yard touchdown pass to Jeff Smiley with 36 seconds left lifted Southeastern Louisiana past Sam Houston State, 30-29, in the second round of the FCS playoffs Saturday night.
After winning their first-ever FCS playoff game, the sixth-seeded Lions (11-2) will host New Hampshire (9-4) in a national quarterfinal next Saturday.
The second-round game was a meeting of two Southland Conference programs, and, just like the regular season, SELU won at home. But the result couldn't just be explained in the fact the conference champions are 7-0 at home this season and Sam Houston finished the year 0-5 on the road.
That's because Sam Houston (9-5), which had reached the last two national championship games, had a chance to run out the clock late in the fourth quarter and pull an upset. But SELU forced a punt and took possession of the ball down with 1:29 left, still needing to go 85 yards for a touchdown with a 29-24 deficit.
Bennett, the Southland player of the year, completed six passes on the quick- strike, six-play drive. A 25-yard completion to Marquis Fruge' at the Sam Houston 1 set up the TD pass to a wide-open Smiley on the ensuing play.
A two-point conversion failed, but the SELU defense held off a final Sam Houston possession.
Bennett, a transfer from the University of Oregon, completed 19-of-33 pass attempts for 286 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. He also rushed for 83 yards and his 15th touchdown on 19 carries.
Sam Houston jumped to a 21-7 lead in the first quarter, getting one of its touchdowns on DeAntry Loche's 12-yard return of an interception thrown by Bennett.
But the Lions scored 17 unanswered points in the second quarter, going ahead 24-21 on Bennett's 16-yard touchdown pass to Fruge' with 32 seconds left in the first half.
Sam Houston linebacker Eric Fielo sacked Bennett in the SELU end zone for a safety to pull the Bearkats within 24-23 midway through the third quarter.
The Bearkats then took the lead in the fourth quarter on quarterback Brian Bell's 2-yard keeper, which put them ahead 29-24 at the 10:58 mark.
The visitors had a balanced effort in gaining 287 yards on the ground. Timothy Flanders led the way with 82 yards on 21 carries, including his 15th touchdown of the season.