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Redhawks turn back adversity, Racers
Southeast won 24-17 for its first victory at Murray State since 1978.
MURRAY, Ky. -- Southeast Missouri State coach Tony Samuel talks often about how crucial it is for a team to be able to handle adversity within a game.
The Redhawks were hit with more than their share of adversity Saturday against longtime nemesis Murray State -- including a vicious body shot in the first 3 minutes.
But Southeast was able to bounce back from every blow, resulting in a second straight win over the Racers for the first time in school history, 24-17 in front of a sparse crowd of 2,559 at Stewart Stadium.
"That's part of football. That's going to happen," Samuel said of adverse situations. "But we handled ourselves well, and I'm proud of them for that.
"Talk about an interesting day. This was a strange game. We had a lot of strange things happen, but the beauty of it is, the kids handled it well."
By surviving several unusual happenings, the Redhawks were able to win in Murray, Ky., for the first time since 1978 and for only the second time ever.
And, although MSU still leads the all-time series 34-6-1, Southeast has been able to reverse that trend the past two years. Last season, the Redhawks broke a 12-game losing streak to the Racers, romping 52-21 in Cape Girardeau.
But the Racers (1-8, 0-6 Ohio Valley Conference) are far from vintage level right now. They have lost 13 consecutive OVC games, dating back to the 2004 season, and are riding a current six-game losing streak.
Meanwhile, the Redhawks (4-4, 2-3) -- who snapped a three-game losing skid -- have already doubled their overall win total from last year in their first season under Samuel.
With three games remaining, Southeast has taken aim at a winning record, which would be just the program's third since moving to Division I-AA in 1991.
"It feels good to win again. We all came together this week in practice and bounced back," Redhawks defensive tackle Jeff Steemer said. "We're trying to have a winning season and we want to keep going from here."
It didn't take long for the Redhawks to have their resolve tested. On the first possession of the game, Southeast had a punt blocked deep in its territory and the Racers returned it for a touchdown.
So just 2 minutes, 24 seconds into play, the Redhawks trailed 7-0.
"Something like that to start the game can take the air out of you and it can ignite the other team," Samuel said. "But we didn't let it bother us."
With Southeast's defense dominating the first half and the offensive moving well against the OVC's lowest-ranked defense, the Redhawks moved out to a 10-7 halftime lead, thanks to a 26-yard Colin Schermann field goal and a 27-yard touchdown run by Tim Holloman.
Southeast, which outgained MSU 248-97 in first-half yardage, could have had an even bigger advantage but failed to score on two drives that reached inside the Racers' 30-yard line.
When Tony Anderson scored from 8 yards out midway through the third quarter, the Redhawks led 17-7 and appeared ready to break the contest open.
But the Racers put together an 80-yard touchdown drive to pull within 17-14 late in the third period.
The Redhawks met with major adversity No. 2 a short time later -- and it threatened to put the Racers back on top.
Southeast faced second-and-13 from the MSU 46 early in the fourth quarter when the Redhawks tried to hit the Racers with a bit of trickery.
Quarterback Kevin Ballatore threw a lateral pass to Holloman, who was supposed to throw another pass downfield -- as long as the opportunity presented itself.
But the Racers snuffed out the play as Holloman was immediately met by an MSU defender. Holloman initially spun away but then was swarmed under again.
It appeared as if Holloman was in the process of trying to get rid of the ball, but he never had the opportunity and fumbled, with the Racers recovering and returning to the Southeast 9-yard line.
The Redhawks' defense, however, forced the Racers to kick a game-tying 25-yard field goal with 10:25 remaining.
"To hold them to a field goal, that was a great defensive stand," Samuel said.
Said Holloman: "I was trying to get rid of it. I was really upset. I should have just eaten the ball."
Not to worry, because Holloman was able to make amends barely a minute later.
After the MSU kickoff, Southeast took over at its own 22. Holloman gained 2 yards on first down, then on the next play found a big hole and used his speed to easily outrun the Racers to the end zone. The 76-yard touchdown romp with 9:18 left put the Redhawks ahead to stay, 24-17.
"I knew I had to make up for the fumble," said Holloman, who rushed for 188 yards on 24 carries.
Southeast was certainly not out of the woods yet -- and the Redhawks soon were hit with another potential major stumbling block.
After MSU was forced to punt, Southeast bled more than 3 minutes off the clock before facing fourth-and-6 at the MSU 43 with under four minutes remaining.
Ballatore lined up behind center and barked out the signals in an obvious attempt to draw MSU offsides. And several Racers did appear to jump, so center Clay Caron snapped the ball to Ballatore, who immediately took a knee.
There was just one problem -- no flag was thrown. So the play stood as a 3-yard loss and MSU took over at its own 46 with 3:44 remaining.
"First of all, we weren't even supposed to snap it," Samuel said. "We wanted to see if we could draw them offsides and make contact. If not, we'll just take the 5 yards [for a delay of game] and punt.
"That made it really interesting."
Said Ballatore: "We were just going to take the penalty and punt. It sure looked like they jumped offsides. But when they didn't call it ... I could barely watch the last few minutes. But luckily our defense came through."
Not before some more highly anxious moments, however. The Racers picked up four first downs, the final one moving the ball to the Southeast 7-yard line.
But four incomplete passes later and Southeast took over on downs with 1:21 remaining. Since the Racers were out of timeouts, two kneel-downs by Ballatore secured the win.
"Toward the end, they got momentum and it got nail-biting," Steemer said. "But I knew our defense would step up."
Said Holloman: "Coach always talks about adversity and how important it is to handle it. I guess we handled it pretty good.
"I'm proud of the team. It was a great effort."
Added a smiling Samuel" "Like I said, it was a strange game. We had a lot of strange things happen to us. But the kids didn't bat an eye. It was good to see."
SE MISSOURI STATE 24, MURRAY ST. 17
|SE Missouri St.||0||10||7||7||--||24|
Mur--Lanigan 1 blocked punt return (Crass kick), 12:36.
Southeast--FG Schermann 26, 10:22.
Southeast--Holloman 27 run (Schermann kick), 8:09.
Southeast--T.Anderson 8 run (Schermann kick), 7:25.
Mur--McCleskey 30 pass from Barnard (Crass kick), 1:12.
Mur--FG Crass 25, 10:25.
Southeast--Holloman 76 run (Schermann kick), 9:18.
|Time of Possession||33:04||26:56|
RUSHING--Southeast, Holloman 24-188, T.Anderson 25-92, Ballatore 5-10, Team 3-(minus 5). Murray St., J.Jones 15-86, Jordan 11-32, R.Harper 1-2, Barnard 4-(minus 12).
PASSING--Southeast, Ballatore 10-21-0-125. Murray St., Barnard 16-36-0-200.
RECEIVING--Southeast, Scaife 3-40, Oge 3-28, C.Jones 2-12, Boyack 1-36, S.Goodson 1-9. Murray St., Jordan 6-24, Townsel 3-73, J.Jones 3-32, McCleskey 1-30, Knight 1-18, R.Harper 1-14, Woods 1-9.