The Redhawks weren't far off from duplicating that feat Saturday night when TSU paid another visit to Cape Girardeau.
But the undefeated Tigers made the big plays when it counted and held off Southeast 40-28 in front of an announced crowd of 4,800 that included plenty of TSU fans who made the trip from Nashville, Tenn.
"Of course we're not too happy with the outcome," Southeast senior tailback Levi Terrell said. "But I think our guys played hard on both sides of the ball. We were in it all the way until the clock hit zero."
TSU, ranked 18th and 20th in the two major Football Championship Subdivision polls, improved to 7-0 overall and a first-place 3-0 in the Ohio Valley Conference.
"They're a good team," Southeast coach Tony Samuel said. "We had our chances. No question about that."
Southeast, which fell to 2-4 overall and 1-2 in the OVC, had beaten TSU five consecutive times in Cape Girardeau. The home team had won the last 11 meetings in the series.
The Redhawks were routed by the Tigers 55-3 last year in Nashville, but Saturday's rematch was tight virtually all the way. Southeast never led but trailed just 33-28 until TSU got a clinching touchdown with under two minutes left.
"We played hard," Southeast redshirt freshman quarterback Scott Lathrop said. "I never question our effort."
TSU had been one of just two Football Championship Subdivision teams to not allow more than 20 points in any game.
"We were able to get some points on them," Samuel said.
But Southeast's defense had trouble slowing down the Tigers, who piled up 460 yards.
Junior tailback Trabis Ward did much of the damage with a career-high 267 yards on 43 carries, giving him an OVC-leading 908 yards on the season.
"We played tough as a team, but we didn't get the stops on defense when we needed them," Southeast senior linebacker Blake Peiffer said. "But our offense played their asses off."
Ward scored four touchdowns, his 30-yarder with 1 minute, 26 seconds left accounting for the game's final TD. He leads the OVC with 13 touchdowns.
"He's got really good vision," Samuel said.
Southeast got a career game from Lathrop, who rushed for 145 yards on 21 carries and scored on a 13-yard run. He also completed 17 of 26 passes for 222 yards and a touchdown.
Lathrop's previous high-water marks during his first collegiate season were 62 yards rushing and 120 yards passing.
"He really competed running the ball, throwing the ball, keeping plays alive," Samuel said.
Terrell had his third consecutive 100-yard rushing performance and fourth of the season with 110 yards on 18 carries.
Terrell scored his first two touchdowns of the season, including on a career-long 52-yard run. His other TD was from 7 yards out.
"What can you say about Levi. They loaded the box on him," Samuel said.
Both teams had just one turnover. TSU's, a fumble on the game's opening possession recovered by senior tackle Josyah O'Keefe-Lopez, came at Southeast's 5-yard line.
Southeast's turnover was just Lathrop's second interception of the season. It came on a tipped pass and might have prevented Southeast from taking its only lead.
The Redhawks, trailing 20-14 in the closing seconds of the third quarter, faced third-and-2 at the TSU 23.
Lathrop dropped back to pass but was hit. The ball went right to TSU sophomore cornerback Steven Godbolt, who took the pick 62 yards to the Southeast 26.
TSU scored a few plays later to go up 26-14.
Lathrop said he was trying to hit junior wide receiver D.J. Foster over the middle.
"D.J. was coming open across the middle. Right as I stepped up to throw somebody got his arm on the ball," Lathrop said.
Southeast, despite falling behind by 12 points, would not go away.
The Redhawks scored on their next two possessions. Terrell broke off his 52-yard run with 10:42 left to make it 26-21, and true freshman wide receiver Paul McRoberts made an acrobatic 8-yard touchdown catch to make it 33-28 with 2:22 left.
Southeast's problem was that TSU kept answering the Redhawks' touchdowns with scores of its own.
"We just let them keep moving the ball," said Peiffer, who led Southeast's defense with 14 tackles but saw TSU convert 11 of 15 third downs. "We didn't get stops on third down."
Ward's 30-yard burst with 1:26 remaining gave TSU its final breathing room, although Southeast was at TSU's 10-yard line when time expired.
"You've got to be proud of the effort," Samuel said. "They went out there and scrapped. I just wish we could have pulled it out."