COOKEVILLE, Tenn. -- Southeast Missouri State's football team sent its departing coach out with an exciting game if not a victory.
The Redhawks rallied from a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit and scored the tying touchdown with 34 seconds remaining Saturday afternoon.
But host Tennessee Tech connected on a 37-yard touchdown pass with 7 seconds left to pull out a 31-24 win in the season finale for both squads.
"We left it all on the field," said defensive end Justin Komondoreas, the Ohio Valley Conference leader in sacks and tackles for loss. "We just came up short."
So Southeast ends Tim Billings' final season with a 2-9 record and a 2-6 OVC mark, which places the Redhawks seventh in the nine-team league.
"We never gave up," said quarterback Mike Haley, who directed the fourth-quarter comeback. "It's sad we couldn't send him [Billings] out with a win."
Billings announced his resignation on Friday. He coached his final game with the Redhawks Saturday, and finished with a six-year record of 25-43.
"We played hard. I can't fault the effort at all," Billings said. "We showed a lot of character, and I'm really proud of the guys. We just had too many mistakes, and we missed too many opportunities."
Southeast, which never led in the game, appeared headed for a routine loss when Tech (4-7, 3-5) took a 24-10 lead late in the third quarter.
But the Redhawks showed plenty of spunk over the last five games of the season -- after they had lost each of their first six games by at least 14 points -- and that again showed up Saturday.
Haley led a 69-yard drive that ended with his 23-yard touchdown pass to a diving Brian Matthews in the back of the end zone, as Southeast pulled to within 24-17 with 13:02 remaining in the contest.
Southeast could not get anything going on its next two possessions before finally beginning a last-chance drive on its 20 with 2:39 left.
The Redhawks covered those 80 yards in 12 plays -- including a fourth-down conversion -- and scored on tailback John Radney's 6-yard run with 34 seconds left. The last of Colin Schermann's three extra points forged a 24-24 tie.
"That was a great drive, with our backs against the wall," Billings said.
But just when it looked like the Redhawks were probably headed to overtime, they suffered their third narrow defeat in the past five games.
Jarrod Houston returned the kickoff 37 yards to the Tech 48, where the Eagles started their drive with 27 seconds left.
After an incomplete pass, quarterback Stephen Britton hit Houston for 15 yards to the Southeast 37. Britton spiked the ball with 15 seconds left, then hit Larry Shipp with a bomb in the back of the end zone with 7 seconds remaining.
"Our defense played pretty good overall, but we gave up too many big plays, including the one at the end," Billings said.
The Eagles scored two other touchdowns on long pass plays, including a 48-yarder with 22 seconds left in the second quarter that gave them a 10-3 halftime lead, and a 60-yarder on the first play of the third quarter that made it 17-3.
Southeast squandered several golden scoring opportunities in the first half, which came back to haunt the Redhawks.
In the opening two quarters, Southeast had two possessions that reached inside the Tech 5-yard and another that penetrated the 35 -- but the Redhawks came away with just three points.
Schermann kicked a 23-yard field goal late in the first quarter for a 3-3 tie. He was wide from 31 yards out early in the second period, just the second miss in 14 tries this season for the redshirt freshman from Central High School.
"We should have had a good lead in the first half," Billings said.
Trailing 17-3 early in the third quarter, Southeast scored on Haley's 14-yard pass to T.J. Milcic. After Tech went ahead 24-10, the Redhawks rallied only to fall short as the Billings era ended.
"I wish the best for the Redhawks football program, I really do," Billings said. "Hopefully, the new coach will come in and finish what we started."
|SE Missouri St.||3||0||7||14||--||24|
TT--FG J.Foster 37, 10:27.
SE--FG Schermann 23, 4:31.
TT--McNeal 48 pass from Britton (J.Foster kick), :22.
TT--Shipp 60 pass from Britton (J.Foster kick), 14:51.
SE--Milcic 14 pass from Haley (Schermann kick), 13:41.
TT--Kirnes 2 run (J.Foster kick), :27.
SE--Matthews 23 pass from Haley (Schermann kick), 13:02.
SE--Radney 6 run (Schermann kick), :34.
TT--Shipp 37 pass from Britton (J.Foster kick), :07.
|Time of Possession||25:57||34:03|
RUSHING--SE Missouri State, Holloman 11-59, Radney 5-20, Peterson 2-11, Oliver 1-3, Scaife 2-1, Schwent 1-0, B.Simpson 1-(minus 8), Haley 5-(minus 33). Tennessee Tech, Kirnes 28-108, Bonner 6-29, Shipp 1-14, Britton 6-10, Ash 4-5, C.Williams 1-1, Nichols 1-(minus 6).
PASSING--SE Missouri State, Haley 27-47-1-285. Tennessee Tech, Britton 9-16-1-194, Solima 0-1-0-0.
RECEIVING--SE Missouri State, Milcic 6-114, Peterson 5-(minus 3), Radney 4-30, Scaife 3-32, Holloman 3-31, Goodson 2-19, Matthews 1-23, B.Simpson 1-17, Oliver 1-12, Schwent 1-10. Tennessee Tech, Shipp 4-121, McNeal 2-48, Houston 1-15, Da.Jackson 1-5, Kirnes 1-5.