Defense makes crucial stops on own goal line in fourth quarter

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Nick Stauffer made a whole bunch of stops Saturday afternoon, and the Southeast Missouri State defense made just enough stops when it mattered.

The Redhawks defense kept Tennessee State out of the end zone in the second half, and Southeast rallied for a 27-20 overtime victory against the team ranked No. 19 in three different Division I-AA polls before Saturday's game.

"It feels real good, man," said sophomore defensive back Bryan Blanfort, who broke up two passes in the overtime period and had an interception in the first half. "We've been playing hard all season, and we had lost all the close games. We're going to celebrate this tonight."

The Redhawks can celebrate because of a second half that included two interceptions, a missed field goal by TSU, a goal-line stand late in the game that limited the Tigers to a field goal and the overtime stop.

After yielding 280 yards in the first half while falling behind 17-3, Southeast made the plays in the second half, allowing 170 yards but just three points.

TSU, which came into the game as the last unbeaten in Ohio Valley Conference play, picked up 125 yards from OVC leading rusher Javarris Williams and 233 yards passing from Antonio Heffner, the conference's leading quarterback.

"We knew he was a pretty good athlete," Blanfort said of Heffner, "and we knew the running back was good, too, but we knew if we just played our game, we knew [Heffner] was going to make some plays, but if we made more plays, we were going to win the game."

Blanfort came up with six tackles -- in addition to his interception in the end zone -- and shared a sack with Josh Woods, a junior linebacker who had 10 tackles, including five of the unit's 14 tackles for losses.

But Stauffer, a senior linebacker who has been Southeast's leading tackler this season, made the most plays. He had 14 solo stops among his career-high 21 tackles.

"He comes to play every game," Blanfort said. "We just needed him to keep doing what he has been doing every game, and we were going to feed off him."

Stauffer provided a big spark for the offense as well as the defense late in the third quarter, picking off Heffner's pass down the middle and returning it 21 yards to Tennessee State's 37-yard line. That set up a five-play drive, which ended with an 8-yard touchdown pass from Houston Lillard to Walter Peoples for Southeast's first trip into the end zone.

"That felt great," Stauffer said of his first career interception. "I've wanted one of those for a while. I never got one in a game before, so I finally got one."

Freshman Philip Klaproth had his first career interception earlier in the third period on a pass that was deflected at the line of scrimmage. The pickoff ended a TSU drive that had reached Southeast's 31-yard line.

"I thought that was a crucial play in the ballgame," TSU coach James Webster Jr. said. "We were running the ball and then we threw the ball and had an interception. We just needed to keep pounding the ball."

TSU continued to move the ball in the fourth quarter, driving to Southeast's 25 before missing a field goal.

After Southeast tied the score 17-17 with 4:42 to play, TSU drove inside Southeast's 5-yard line, but three rushing attempts came up short. Heffner's run to the right side was stopped by Eddie Calvin, and Williams netted 1 yard on two carries with Nick Ketelsleger making the first stop and Klaproth teaming with Damian Smith on the second. TSU had to settle for a field goal for a 20-17 lead, leaving the door open for Southeast's field goal to tie as regulation ended.

"We got down to the goal line and we should've scored," Webster said. "We should've punched it in. We couldn't get it in and had to settle for a field goal."

After Southeast scored a touchdown on the first series of overtime, Smith set the tone for the TSU series by stuffing Heffner on a quarterback draw for a 3-yard loss.

"That was a tremendous play by him," Stauffer said. "That was a game-changer."

"We knew, because the quarterback's arm was kind of sore, we knew they didn't want to pass the ball, they wanted to pound it," Blanfort said. "We stopped them on that first down, and we knew all they could do was throw. We were just going to sit back, let them keep those short routes, and we were going to break on them."

Blanfort broke up a pass on second down, Heffner's third-down pass fell incomplete and the fourth-down pass was tipped away near the first-down marker by Blanfort, who was catching grief from his teammates for not making an interception.

"I should've had it," Blanfort said. "I just have to work on hands in practice."

"Those are still key breakups," Stauffer said.

Southeast won its first OVC game of the season and just its fourth in 16 league games under third-year coach Tony Samuel.

"This was amazing," Stauffer said. "It was a great game for us to start this. Now, we just have to keep the train rolling."

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