Indians' road win arranges showdown

Sunday, November 16, 2003

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. -- It was a game Southeast Missouri State University football coach Tim Billings said he was scared to death about.

And a late Tennessee Tech rally did indeed make Billings sweat quite a bit on a cloudy, blustery day.

But the Indians ultimately made their mentor's fears a moot point Saturday afternoon by holding off host Tennessee Tech 24-20.

Southeast, posting its fifth win in six games, improved to 5-6 overall and 5-2 in Ohio Valley Conference play to remain one game behind first-place Jacksonville State.

Jacksonville State visits Houck Stadium Saturday in the regular-season finale that will feature a winner-take-all battle for the OVC's automatic NCAA Division I-AA playoff berth. A victory for the Indians will give them a share of their first OVC title and send them to the I-AA playoffs for the first time.

"It's a great feeling, the first time in the history of the school we'll be playing for a championship in Division I-AA," Billings said.

Added a smiling Billings after seeing the Indians build a late 24-7 late before barely holding on, "Nothing's been easy for us all year. This was no different than any other game."

The Indians took advantage of Tech's struggling quarterback situation by intercepting six Joey Bailey passes -- four in the first half -- to set up 10 points and eliminate most of the Eagles' best scoring opportunities before their late flurry. Southeast also recovered a victory-sealing fumble, giving Tech seven turnovers. The Eagles had eight turnovers last week.

Dimitri Patterson had two interceptions, giving him a team-high five on the season. Kellin White picked off his fourth pass of the year, Chaun Tate got his third, O.J. Turner his second and Ricky Farmer his first.

"We came into the game knowing they turn the ball over a lot," Patterson said. "They've got a young quarterback and we wanted to rattle him."

Although the Eagles (2-8, 1-6) hurt Southeast's defense with 227 yards rushing, they mustered just 87 yards passing as Southeast allowed 314 total yards. Tech suffered its sixth straight loss -- all since star quarterback Robert Craft was lost for the season with a knee injury.

"Nothing's been easy for us all year," Turner said, laughing. "We let everybody get their money's worth."

Quarterback Jack Tomco threw three touchdown passes, two to Ray Goodson and one to Jamel Oliver. Tomco played the whole game in place of Andrew Goodenough, who was out with a rib injury.

Tomco, the starter earlier in the season, was sharp most of the day as he completed 28 of 45 passes for 353 yards. He was intercepted once.

"Whenever they want me to play, I'm ready," Tomco said. "I thought I threw the ball pretty well, and the offensive line played good. We should have scored more, but it's a great feeling to win this game and know we'll be playing for the OVC title next week."

Oliver caught eight passes out of the backfield, good for 88 yards. Goodson had six receptions and T.J. Milcic helped pick up the slack left by last week's injury to Chris NesSmith -- who did not play -- by catching five passes for 64 yards.

The Indians, who rushed for only 79 yards, finished with 432 total yards.

"We moved the ball well but we missed some scoring chances," Billings said. "Jack played well."

Billings did not say which quarterback would start against Jacksonville State, but he indicated that if Goodenough is healthy, he'll likely get the nod.

Tech scored first, on Derek White's 40-yard touchdown run with 7:16 left in the opening quarter. The Eagles moved 80 yards on the drive.

Southeast came right back with a 75-yard drive, capped by Tomco's 3-yard pass to Goodson. Derek Kutz tacked on the first of his three extra points for a 7-7 tie with 3:42 remaining in the first quarter.

Farmer's diving interception just 14 seconds later set Southeast up at the Tech 44-yard line. The Indians moved in for the go-ahead touchdown at the 1:19 mark as Tomco and Goodson hooked up again, this time from 15 yards out.

Kutz kicked a 42-yard field goal with three seconds left in the first half as the Indians opened up a 17-7 lead.

After a scoreless third quarter, Southeast appeared to seal the victory with 10:05 remaining on Tomco's 19-yard TD pass to Oliver, making it 24-7. The score was set up by Antonio Scaife's 19-yard punt return to the Tech 36.

But Tech refused to go down quietly. Jason Ballard's 21-yard TD run with 6:14 left made it 24-14. The Eagles then recovered an onsides kick and Ballard's 3-yard TD run with 3:57 remaining cut the deficit to 24-20, although Tech elected to go for a two-point conversion that failed. Ballard rushed for 109 yards and White added 88.

Tech got the ball back one more time, with 1:31 left, on its 25-yard line. The Eagles picked up 21 yards, but quarterback Darrius Mohn -- who replaced Bailey and led the late rally -- fumbled under pressure from Justin Komondoreas. Travion Brock recovered, allowing Southeast to run out the clock.

Komondoreas and Brock are both backups who have played sparingly this year but, partly due to Southeast's rash of injuries, came up big Saturday.

"I just try to stay ready and come in whenever coach needs me," Komondoreas said. "It's a great feeling to contribute."

And the Indians acknowledged it's a great feeling to be playing for an OVC title and playoff berth in Saturday's regular-season finale.

"It's going to be the biggest game we've played in the four years I've been here," Farmer said. "It's exciting to be playing for something like that."

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: