LAKELAND, Fla.—The final game at Victory Field in 2018 yielded a 31-26 victory over Faulkner, clinching at least a share of the Mid-South Sun Division crown for the Fire for the fourth year in a row.
Should the Fire move into the Top 20 in the Coaches’ Poll on Sunday, they will earn a third consecutive trip to the NAIA Football Championship Series.
“I’m coaching a team that I would love to see in the playoffs,” said coach Keith Barefield. “I think we’ve come a long way this year; we’ve lost games by 1, 3, and 5 points and if you take any one of those back, there’s no doubt where we’d be next weekend. We didn’t take care of business so it’s left up to voters.”
A 13-play, 73-yard drive to start the game helped the Fire take the lead as Cooper Jones threw the first of his three touchdown passes on the day to Marque Northington, who also had a scoring reception with seven seconds left in the first quarter to put the Fire up 13-3 after a missed extra point.
Northington had 54 yards on four catches with the two scores in his final game at Victory Field.
Jones finished the day 14-of-28 passing for 167 yards with three touchdowns, two interceptions, and was sacked twice.
Momentum shifted towards the guests as the ensuing kickoff was returned 88 yards for a touchdown. Faulkner then surprised Southeastern with an onside kick and recovered, and led to a field goal to tie the game at 13. Another Faulkner field goal with 5:19 left in the half gave the Eagles the lead at halftime.
The start of the second half was delayed more than two hours due to severe weather, but it didn’t phase the Fire, as the defense forced a three-and-out to start the half. When Faulkner attempted to punt, the snap went out of the end zone resulting in a safety. A personal foul on the extra point forced the Eagles to punt from their own 10-yard line.
The Fire quickly found paydirt on a four-play, 27-yard drive as Jones found D’Terryon Anderson for a four-yard touchdown.
“Our guys came out inspired and put up eight points pretty quick,” said Barefield. “We had a little trouble with our special teams tonight and those are things, if we are playing next week, we’ll need to work on.”
Faulkner got within two with 9:12 to play with an eight-play, 52-yard drive that finished with a 40-yard field goal. The Eagles also cut it to two with 7:19 left on their only offensive touchdown of the day, a three-yard run by D’Arie Johnson.
David Larson answered with a 43-yard field goal with 2:44 to play.
Tyson Kee picked off a pass at the Faulkner 41-yard line to ice the game for his second pick of the night. Kee was at the top of the tackle chart along with Nico Moreno with 10. Lamont Trent added eight to become the first player in program history to record 100 tackles in a season.
“It’s awesome to win this game, and it’s even better because my first game, we lost to Faulkner, so to finish against them with a win is great,” said Kee.
The Fire defense limited Faulkner to just 225 yards on 58 plays.
Bryan Bell helped pace the offense, rushing 29 times for 186 yards, becoming the third different player in program history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season.
The Fire can win the Sun Division title outright if Warner wins at Ave Maria on Saturday.
“We talked about it before the game—you can’t do better than to win four conference championships in four years,” said Barefield. “We’re really proud of these young men, and we appreciate the fans that stuck it out and saw us bring another championship to Southeastern.”