MARTIN, Tenn. -- For once, Southeast Missouri State University didn't have to pile up gaudy offensive numbers to beat Tennessee-Martin.
The Indians, after outscoring the Skyhawks in wild shootouts the past two years, posted a more conventional 20-7 road victory Saturday.
Southeast used a bend-but-don't-break defense that allowed its lowest point total of the season as the Indians stayed squarely in the hunt for their first Ohio Valley Conference championship.
"Our defense played really physical, and they're really playing well right now," Southeast coach Tim Billings said. "Tennessee-Martin has a dangerous offense, but we were able to pretty much shut them down."
The Indians improved to 3-6 overall and 3-2 in OVC play. The last-place Skyhawks (2-8, 1-5) have lost 47 of their past 48 conference games.
"This is a big win for us," said Southeast wide receiver Chris NesSmith, who scored one of the Indians' two touchdowns. "We've got three more games left, and we've got to get them all."
UTM had chances to score through much of the first half, but the Indians' defense turned back the Skyhawks on possessions that reached the Southeast 19-, 15- and 13-yard lines. A third-quarter drive that went to the Indians' 34 also was repelled before the Skyhawks finally got on the board in the fourth quarter.
"We were pretty pleased with the way the defense played," Southeast linebacker O.J. Turner said. "The last two years we played them it was pretty wild, but today it was more low-scoring. They drove the ball some, but we were able to keep them out of the end zone."
The Indians prevailed despite being outgained 364 to 333 in total yardage.
"They were definitely improved, but so is our defense," Southeast linebacker Ricky Farmer said. "I feel like we played pretty good. We had some breakdowns, but the main thing is we won, and now we have to keep it going."
Southeast's offense started out like it would have a big day against the OVC's worst statistical defense that allowed an average of 37.4 points and 444.8 yards per game. With Andrew Goodenough getting his first start at quarterback, the Indians scored on their opening two possessions to build an early 10-0 lead.
After UTM's game-opening drive reached Southeast's 19 before stalling, the Indians proceeded to move 78 yards. Goodenough hit NesSmith with a 9-yard touchdown pass, and Derek Kutz converted for a 7-0 lead with 6:34 left in the first quarter.
With 16 seconds remaining in the opening period, Kutz kicked a 34-yard field goal, capping a 48-yard drive and making it 10-0.
But Southeast's offense sputtered the rest of the half, and the Indians carried that 10-0 advantage into the locker room.
"We were rolling at first, and I thought it was going to be another high-scoring game," NesSmith said. "Our offense kind of bogged down, but our defense played great."
The Indians opened up breathing room late in the third quarter, thanks mostly to freshman Antonio Scaife, who returned a punt 58 yards to the UTM 2. Jamel Oliver scored on the next play and Kutz converted for a 17-0 lead with 4:19 left in the period.
"It felt pretty good to make that return," said Scaife, who fumbled a punt that proved to be a key play during last week's loss to Murray State. "I fumbled last week, but I knew I just had to forget about it."
UTM finally broke Southeast's shutout bid when quarterback Brady Wahlberg and Taurean Stephens hooked up on a 58-yard with 11:28 to play in the fourth quarter, pulling the Skyhawks to within 17-7.
But Southeast came right back with a time-consuming drive that took almost nine minutes off the clock and resulted in a 23-yard Kutz field goal to make it 20-7 with 2:29 left. Kutz has converted on 12 of 14 field-goal attempts this season.
"I felt like we should have scored more points, but we played good, solid football," Billings said. "Our kicking game was strong, and that was a big key. The main thing is we won the football game."
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