Babineaux goes long distance to knock off Delta State
LITTLE ROCK -- Nothing in the scouting report on Southern Arkansas warned teams to be wary of kicking deep to Jordan Babineaux.
It does now.
Babineaux entered last week's game with Delta State with four kickoff returns for an acceptable 22.3-yard average. If he had enough returns to qualify, his new average of 42.4 yards after a 44-36 win would lead NCAA Division II.
The senior from Port Arthur, Texas, set a Gulf South Conference record with 208 return yards and two touchdown returns from 96 and 100 yards. Both allowed the Muleriders to reclaim the lead moments after Delta State had taken it.
"Anytime you get one kickoff return for a touchdown it's something else, but to get two of them to set a Gulf South record, it was big and it was big for us to win that football game," Southern Arkansas coach Steve Quinn said.
The Muleriders (5-2, 3-2 Gulf South) knocked off then-No. 13 Delta State and jumped back into the NCAA Division II poll at No. 21.
The touchdowns validated Babineaux's long-held desire to return kicks. The cornerback had been on the kickoff team, but only as a blocker. Offensive coordinator Tommy Laurendine talked Quinn into putting the 6-0, 202-pound Babineaux back there this year.
"I got the first one and broke it open," said Babineaux, a broadcast journalism major on track to graduate in May. "It was emotional for me, because this is my first year to return kicks. I had been begging coach to put me on it. When I broke the second one, I didn't want to get too far ahead of myself because we still had about 4 of 5 minutes left (in the third quarter)."
The senior also led Southern Arkansas in tackles against Delta State (5-2, 3-2) with eight and he just missed his fifth interception in the first quarter. His teammates and SAU sports information director Houston Taylor gave him grief for dropping the easy pick.
To make matters worse, Delta State finished that drive with a touchdown to take a 13-10 lead.
Babineaux was just setting up the Statesmen.
Fourteen seconds after Delta State quarterback Scott Eyster threw the first of three touchdowns, Babineaux ran 96 yards to the end zone.
"Had I made that play on the interception, then I wouldn't have returned that kickoff," he said.
Babineaux spent most of the game chasing Delta State receivers who were busy gaining 388 yards on 71 pass attempts by Eyster. Quinn asked his cornerback if he needed a break from going back on the field to return kicks.
"I told him I was fine and I felt like I had to come back and make something happen to make up for that," Babineaux said.
Southern Arkansas pushed its lead to 23-13, but Delta State went ahead at 26-23 late in the third quarter on another Eyster touchdown pass.
This time, it took Babineaux 15 seconds to cover 100 yards.
"I don't know if we've ever blocked one perfectly," Quinn said. "Most of the time on the kicking game, it's mainly just effort and we were able to get some key blocks down. He was able to read the crease ... and once he got into a foot race, nobody got close."
Delta State took the lead again 36-30 on Eyster's final touchdown pass at the start of the fourth quarter. Southern Arkansas scored the winning touchdown on Ted Williams' 15-yard run and Torrence Jones added a 56-yard run with just under 2 minutes remaining.
The Muleriders forced the Statesmen to turn the ball over on downs on their final two possessions after holding them to 1 yard and a punt immediately after Eyster's final touchdown.
"The kickoff returns got the publicity, but I think his play on defense was critical to the victory," Quinn said. "He had some key pass breakups against a team that had some big-play receivers. He was able to make some big plays that helped shut off some drives."
This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index