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Southeast hangs with nation's No. 1 football team in Division I-AA
Southeast Missouri State failed to upset the nation's top-ranked Division I-AA football team.
But the Redhawks made Southern Illinois sweat most of the way as they wrapped up the season.
The Redhawks, who never led, cut a 25-point SIU lead to 11 in the fourth quarter before the Salukis posted a 42-24 victory in front of an announced 7,527 fans at Houck Stadium. That figure included about 2,000 SIU supporters.
"We played with passion," said Southeast junior wide receiver Miles Edwards, who caught two touchdown passes and moved into a third-place tie on the school's career touchdown receptions list with 14. "We were determined."
Southeast ends the year 2-9, including a 1-7 Ohio Valley Conference record.
SIU (10-1), which went undefeated in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, almost certainly will enter the playoffs as a top-two seed.
That means home-field advantage for the Salukis until the national championship game as long as they keep winning.
"The main thing, we're happy to get the win," said SIU coach Dale Lennon, whose squad has won 10 straight since a season-opening 31-28 loss at Division I-A Marshall. "You have to give Southeast Missouri a lot of credit. Their record didn't look impressive, but they played everybody tough.
"It was definitely in doubt in the fourth quarter. We had to work for it all four quarters."
While Southeast battled hard throughout and made things interesting, the Redhawks had no answer for SIU's explosive offense that piled up 475 yards. The Salukis are eighth nationally in scoring.
Particularly damaging to Southeast was redshirt freshman quarterback Paul McIntosh, who did not become the starter until SIU lost Chris Dieker to a broken collarbone in the seventh game.
McIntosh, a transfer from Army, passed for 181 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 101 yards and three scores on 13 carries.
McIntosh repeatedly escaped trouble to either run for good yardage or hit a receiver. He was the primary reason SIU converted seven of its nine third downs.
"He was the difference," Southeast coach Tony Samuel said. "He got them out of five or six situations.
"They got us on a few big plays. We got some, but they made more. But we played with good heart."
When McIntosh wasn't burning Southeast, All-American tailback candidate Deji Karim did the honors.
Karim, third nationally in rushing with more than 1,500 yards, gained 155 yards on 16 carries and scored two touchdowns.
Southeast kept the speedy senior bottled up much of the day, but he broke loose for a 70-yard touchdown run and also scored from 10 yards out.
"That's what he does, he usually gets one of those big plays every game," Samuel said.
Southeast also had plenty of offense, with 344 yards against SIU's rugged defense. But it was a Southeast defender who made a game of things.
With a little more than nine minutes left in the fourth quarter, senior cornerback William Castro capitalized on McIntosh's only glaring mistake.
SIU was backed up deep in its territory when Castro perfectly read a short pass in the flat. He stepped in front of the intended receiver, caught the ball in stride and went untouched 14 yards into the end zone.
That play pulled Southeast within 35-24 and there still was plenty of time left.
"I had seen it on film and I saw it coming," said Castro, among 17 Southeast seniors honored before the contest. "My last game, it's a good way to go out.
"I wish we could have won, but everybody played hard. That's all you can ask."
SIU ended Southeast's upset hopes by marching 66 yards for a touchdown on its next possession.
The Salukis then forced a punt and ran out the final 5:58 by driving to Southeast's 5-yard line before taking a knee as the game ended.
"I'm very proud of our team," said junior tailback Henry Harris, who led Southeast rushers with 93 yards on 21 carries. "We knew it was a big game. We had nothing to lose. But they're No. 1 for a reason."
Southeast had several strong first-half drives but failed to score as SIU entered the locker room ahead 21-0, thanks to a pair of touchdowns in the final 3:10 of the half.
That set the stage for a back-and-forth second half that featured seven scores between the teams.
A 38-yard field goal by redshirt freshman Curtis Huge, who had a 43-yarder blocked in the first quarter, got Southeast on the board at 21-3.
Southeast got touchdowns on its next two possessions as sophomore quarterback Matt Scheible hit Edwards on a 54-yard bomb and a 5-yarder.
But SIU answered each Southeast score to lead 35-17 before Castro's interception return moved the Redhawks within striking distance.
"We hung in there and played really hard. We came back in the second half and put some points on the board," Scheible said. "But we still lost."