Redhawks upset No. 19 in OT

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Last week's near-miss at perennial Ohio Valley Conference power Eastern Illinois showed Southeast Missouri State's players they were getting closer.

The Redhawks finally finished off the job Saturday with one of their biggest wins since moving up to Division I-AA in 1991.

The Redhawks used a field goal on the final play of regulation to force overtime, then got a 5-yard touchdown run by true freshman quarterback Matt Scheible to stun Tennessee State 27-20.

"It's an unbelievable feeling," senior defensive end Ben Gugler said.

Southeast treated a homecoming crowd at Houck Stadium to a victory over a team ranked 19th nationally. The Redhawks improved to 3-5 overall and 1-3 in OVC play by handing TSU (6-2, 3-1) its first OVC defeat and knocking the Tigers out of first place in the conference.

"We've been waiting on a win like this. It's been much needed," senior tailback Timmy Holloman said. "I think this win will change our whole season."

Southeast players said last weeks' 24-21 loss at Eastern Illinois -- the OVC's top squad from 2005 through 2007 -- served to motivate instead of frustrate.

"I feel like we could have beat a lot of teams, but nobody ever got down," senior quarterback Houston Lillard said. "We've been looking for a win like this against a really good team."

Southeast third-year coach Tony Samuel wasn't biting when asked if this was the Redhawks' biggest victory since he took over the program -- there seems little doubt of that -- but the look on his face showed his satisfaction.

"It always feels good to win a game," Samuel said. "They fought. ... They showed a lot of character."

The Redhawks needed all the fight and character they could muster against the talented Tigers, who feature a host of Division I-A transfers and lead the OVC in both total offense and total defense.

To make matters worse, Southeast once again dug itself a first-half hole as the Redhawks trailed 17-3 at the break. It could have been worse, considering TSU held the ball twice as long as Southeast over the opening two quarters and had a 280 to 83 edge in total yards.

Southeast still has not scored a first-quarter point this season, and has trailed at halftime in seven of its eight games. It was tied in the other game.

"We have to get started in the first half," senior wide receiver Mike Williamson said.

But despite the 14-point halftime deficit, the Redhawks were undaunted.

Southeast's defense made numerous key stops -- thanks in large part to three interceptions -- and kept the Redhawks in the game until the offense got going.

"It's all about the defense," Williamson said. "To hold them to three points in the second half. ..."

Southeast's comeback started with the defense as senior linebacker Nick Stauffer intercepted TSU quarterback Antonio Heffner late in the third quarter. Stauffer returned the pick 21 yards to the Tigers' 37.

Five plays later, Lillard hit junior wide receiver Walter Peoples with an 8-yard touchdown pass, making it 17-10 with more than 14 minutes left in the final period.

TSU missed a 42-yard field goal with just under 8 minutes remaining, and the Redhawks responded to tie the game, thanks in large part to a crucial penalty.

Southeast punted after netting three yards on three plays, but a 15-yard personal-foul penalty against TSU before the punt gave the Redhawks an automatic first down at their 43-yard line.

On third-and-8 from the TSU 34, Lillard and Holloman hooked up on a perfectly executed screen pass against the blitz. Holloman raced to the end zone for a 17-17 tie with 4:42 to play.

"I knew it would work," Lillard said of the screen. "Their defensive ends were coming so aggressive."

The Tigers threatened to take a touchdown lead as they had first-and-goal at the Southeast 4-yard line. But the Redhawks' defense held TSU out of the end zone on three straight running plays, forcing the Tigers to settle for a field goal with 29 seconds left.

"That was huge," Samuel said. "To me, that showed a lot of character."

Sophomore Henry Harris returned the ensuing kickoff 22 yards to the Southeast 43. The Redhawks had 21 seconds to work.

Lillard hit redshirt freshman wide receiver Chante Ahamefule for 22 yards to the TSU 35 with 10 seconds left.

With Southeast out of timeouts, Samuel had a tough decision about whether to attempt a long field goal there. He said he thought the Redhawks needed more yards.

They needed even more after a false-start penalty moved them back 5 yards, to the 40. But Lillard hit Ahamefule on a perfect pass along the sideline that netted 20 yards to the TSU 20 as Ahamefule got out of bounds.

"We just ran a go route and he threw it to my outside shoulder," Ahamefule said.

Junior Doug Spada booted a 37-yard field goal on the final play of regulation to force overtime.

TSU won the coin toss and put Southeast on offense first. A pass interference penalty on the Tigers moved the ball to the TSU 10.

On third down from the 5, Scheible came in for his only play of the day. He had a pass-run option and decided to tuck the ball.

Scheible headed toward the right corner of the end zone and left his feet, with the ball just getting inside the pylon.

"I had the option to throw or run, and I decided to run it," said Scheible, who has seen considerable action this season and played most of the way last week at Eastern Illinois. "It was a great feeling."

When Southeast's defense held the Tigers without a first down on their overtime possession, all the Redhawks could celebrate a win on homecoming.

"We've been working and we came so close last week," Gugler said. "To beat one of the best teams today ... it's definitely a change from what's gone on here in the past."

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