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Redhawks stomp Govs in second-half rally
CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. -- A charged-up Austin Peay football team looked like the nationally ranked squad for much of Saturday night's first half.
Southeast Missouri State weathered the storm and eventually pulled away for a 41-24 road victory that cemented the Redhawks' No. 18 ranking and continued their improbable season that is guaranteed to end with a rare winning record.
The Redhawks took their first lead with 1 minute, 21 seconds left in the third quarter. That started a barrage of 22 straight points in a span of eight minutes as Southeast left the Governors gasping.
"We came out slow and we got a little frustrated at the beginning," said sophomore linebacker Blake Peiffer, a Jackson High School graduate. "But we all stepped it up."
Southeast improved to 6-1 overall and 5-0 in Ohio Valley Conference play with its sixth straight win that represents the program's longest streak since joining the Football Championship Subdivision, formerly Division I-AA, in 1991.
The Redhawks, continuing their best start on the FCS level, have their longest winning streak since the 1989 club also won six straight. They also tied their high-water mark for OVC wins reached three times, most recently in 2003.
And although the Redhawks still have much more they hope to accomplish, they have clinched the program's first winning season since 2002 (8-4) and just the third since joining the FCS (the other was a 7-5 mark in 1994).
"That's great for the program and the community," said senior tailback Henry Harris, who rushed for 152 yards and scored three touchdowns while becoming the fifth player in school history to post a 1,000-yard rushing season.
Said sophomore safety Tylor Brock, who intercepted his fifth pass of the year: "It's definitely a good start to have a winning record. But we don't want it to stop there."
Austin Peay (2-4, 1-2) scored touchdowns on two of its first three possessions while Southeast lost a fumble and punted three times on its first four possessions.
That combination led to an early 14-0 lead for the Govs, who still held that advantage more than midway through the second quarter.
"We knew they were going to come out strong. They've got a good team," Harris said.
Southeast coach Tony Samuel said the way Austin Peay played early is something the Redhawks have to get used to now that they are nationally ranked for the first time since 2003 and have their highest ranking since joining the FCS.
"They got after us early in the first quarter," Samuel said. "You knew they were going to be up for us. That's part of winning. This is the first time we've had a team stalking us."
Southeast finally broke the ice on a 10-yard touchdown run by Harris with 6:10 left in the second quarter to make it 14-7.
Two field goals by sophomore Drew Geldbach in the final 37 seconds of the half -- a 46-yarder and then a 47-yarder on the last play after Southeast recovered a muffed kickoff -- pulled the Redhawks to within 14-13 at the intermission.
The Govs scored on their opening possession of the second half to make it 21-13 but Southeast answered with a 1-yard Harris run to close within 21-19 after a failed 2-point conversion.
Austin Peay then drove deep again only to be held to a short field goal that made it 24-19. It was just the opening the Redhawks needed.
"I thought to hold them to a field goal there was big," Samuel said. "Then our defense started to pick it up."
Harris, not only the nation's leading rusher but also first in all-purpose yardage, ripped off a career-high 71-yard return on the ensuing kickoff to set up Southeast at the Austin Peay 24.
Senior Mike Jones' 1-yard run with 1:21 left in the third period gave Southeast its first lead, which became 27-24 after junior quarterback Matt Scheible ran for the 2-point conversion.
It was all Southeast after that. The defense forced a three-and-out and Harris capped a 75-yard drive with a 1-yard run that made it 34-24 with 10:52 left in the fourth quarter.
Brock then returned his interception 67 yards to the Austin Peay 2. After some lost yardage, Scheible scored from 4 yards out with 8:21 remaining. The contest effectively was over at 41-24.
"We had a great second half," Samuel said. "I really have to give the kids credit for that second half."
Said Harris: "It was a great test for us. We stuck together as a family, something coach always preaches. I've been saying the past weeks it's all about finishing."
Added Peiffer: "It's great to be a part of this. From now on everybody will come out and give us their best shot. We have to prepare like it's a championship game."