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Indians miss out in Ohio
ATHENS, Ohio -- It wasn't for a lack of opportunities that Southeast Missouri State University missed out on its second straight upset of an NCAA Division I-A team.
The visiting Indians squandered several scoring chances and gift-wrapped all of Ohio University's points in a 17-3 defeat in the season opener for both squads Thursday night.
"I think the game was there for the taking for either team," Southeast coach Tim Billings said. "We had plenty of opportunities, but we just couldn't come up with a big play."
In the opening two quarters alone, Southeast reached the Ohio 12-yard line on its only first-half drive of substance and recovered fumbles at the Bobcats' 2, 24 and 44 -- yet the Indians could manage only a 24-yard Derek Kutz field goal and trailed 17-3 at intermission.
Then on its first two possessions of the second half, Southeast marched to the Ohio 10 and 3 but came up empty when both drives ended on downs.
It was a frustrating night for Southeast, a I-AA team that last year stunned I-A Middle Tennessee for its first-ever victory over a squad from football's highest division.
"We practiced for three weeks," Southeast tight end Ray Goodson said. "To come here and get the ball inside the five and not do it ... this wasn't us. We didn't play our brand of football."
Southeast lost despite a valiant defense that limited Ohio to just 308 yards but could not quite overcome crucial offensive mistakes and a short field that led to all of the Bobcats' points.
"We missed some tackles, but this was definitely a step in the right direction for us," Southeast defensive end Ryan Roth said.
But Southeast's offense sputtered much of the night against Ohio's stout defense, especially near the goal line. The Indians, who averaged 447 yards and nearly 35 points per game last year, managed just 300 yards Thursday.
"We're supposed to have a very good offense, but our execution was very poor," Billings said. "You have to give Ohio's defense credit. They do a great job defensively. That's the strength of their team. But we're not nearly where we need to be offensively."
Ohio needed just 44 yards for its two first-half touchdowns, which came after a 25-yard punt return and a fumble. A short field goal came after a drive of only 28 yards following a fumble. That's a paltry 72 yards for 17 points.
"I think we made some good strides on defense," Southeast linebacker Ricky Farmer said.
The complexion of the game might very well have changed in the early going as Southeast failed at a golden opportunity to grab an early lead.
On Southeast's second possession, Jack Tomco found wide-open tailback David Taufoou for 62 yards to the Ohio 12, but on second down wide receiver Anthony Gilliam dropped a sure touchdown pass at the goal line. Tomco was then intercepted.
"There were a lot of plays that could have changed the game, not just Gilliam's drop," Billings said.
Ohio finally broke through late in the opening quarter. After a 25-yard Stafford Owens punt return to the Southeast 32, Ryan Hawk found a wide-open Scott Mayle in the end zone on first down for a 7-0 lead.
On Southeast's next possession, Taufoou fumbled, and Ohio recovered at the Indians' 34. The Indians' defense stiffened, and Ohio settled for Greg DiMarino's 23-yard field goal, making it 10-0 less than a minute into the second quarter.
Again on Southeast's next possession, tailback Corey Kinsey fumbled, and Ohio recovered at the Indians' 12. On first down, Owens scored for a 17-0 lead 5:36 before halftime.
The Indians finally got on the board with 2:55 left in the half on the 24-yard Kutz field goal, but Southeast failed to take full advantage of a first-and-goal at the Ohio 2 after safety Anthony Lumpkin recovered a fumble.
Farmer then recovered his second fumble of the opening half at the Ohio 24, but on second down Andrew Goodenough -- the third quarterback Southeast used in the first half -- was intercepted in the end zone to prevent the Indians from getting closer.
The squads combined for eight first-half turnovers, four on each side. The Bobcats lost four fumbles while the Indians lost two fumbles and were intercepted twice.
"Both teams played very, very hard," Ohio coach Brian Knorr said. "There were a lot of mistakes, which is what you see a lot in a first game."
Southeast threatened to get back in the contest at the outset of the second half. The Indians' first drive reached the Ohio 10 but ended on downs.
After Southeast's defense backed Ohio inside its 5, a short punt gave the Indians great field position at the Bobcats' 36. Southeast this time reached the 3 but again failed on fourth down.
The Indians still had a flicker of hope in the late going as they drove to Ohio's 19 with under six minutes left, but on fourth down Tomco was intercepted in the end zone. That was the Indians' last gasp as they never got the ball back.
"I made two interceptions that really hurt us," Tomco said. "We didn't execute. This wasn't us today, but we'll get better."