(Fred Lynch) [Order this photo]
Saturday afternoon the Redhawks laid their first true OVC egg of the season -- and on Senior Day, no less.
Southeast dug itself an early hole with turnovers and never really threatened Eastern Kentucky as the visiting Colonels romped 31-7.
An announced Houck Stadium crowd of 3,525 for Southeast's final home game saw the Redhawks fall to 3-6 overall and 2-4 in OVC play.
"We didn't play as well as we should have," said defensive end Justin Love, among 23 Southeast seniors making their final home appearance. "We didn't perform to our full potential."
EKU, ranked 23rd nationally, improved to 7-3 overall and 5-2 in the conference.
The Colonels, coming off a 17-point home loss to Eastern Illinois, remain alive for the OVC title. They trail Tennessee-Martin and Eastern Illinois, both 5-1.
"A huge win for our guys," said EKU coach Dean Hood after the Colonels beat Southeast for the 20th time in 23 meetings. "I'm really proud of them."
Not much went right for the Redhawks and it started on the game's first series.
Southeast, after receiving the opening kickoff, picked up two first downs and moved the ball to the EKU 41-yard line. A false-start penalty set the Redhawks back and they faced second-and-14 at the 45.
EKU senior safety Brooklyn Fox intercepted an off-target pass from redshirt freshman quarterback Scott Lathrop and returned it 59 yards to the 16. A facemask penalty on Southeast moved the ball to the 8.
Southeast's defense, which actually didn't play badly despite the final score, made a key stop on the first play of the second quarter.
All-American senior linebacker Blake Peiffer and senior safety Branden Spann nailed Denham for a 1-yard loss on fourth-and-goal from the 1.
"I did feel like that could turn the momentum around," Love said.
But the Redhawks' offense, which struggled all day, gave the ball back to EKU as senior tailback Levi Terrell failed to make connections with a pitch from Lathrop.
"It was on me," said Terrell. "I didn't keep my eyes on it."
The Colonels recovered at the Southeast 29. They gained just two yards but freshman Zack Burgy-VanHoose kicked a 45-yard field goal to make it 10-0 with 12:10 left before halftime.
EKU went ahead 17-0 when a 63-yard drive was culminated by junior tailback Deshaun Sands' 20-yard run at the 7:29 mark.
Southeast's third turnover of the opening half came in the final minute after the Redhawks had penetrated inside the EKU 35-yard line for the first time. Lathrop, on first down at the 29, fumbled after being hit from the blind side. The Colonels recovered with 45 seconds left in the half.
"We needed to start early against them. We didn't," Southeast coach Tony Samuel said. "We turned the ball over early. They got on us quickly." Things got no better for the Redhawks in the second half as their offense continued to sputter. An EKU touchdown with 5:37 left in the third quarter made it 24-0 and the Colonels opened up a 31-0 bulge on a touchdown with 10 seconds left in the period.
Sophomore quarterback Jared McClain, the backup to record-setting senior T.J. Pryor, scored both third-period TDs on runs of 3 yards.
McClain, more of a runner than Pryor, hurt Southeast with his legs. He also completed 8 of 11 passes for 138 yards.
"He did some really good things. You can see his athleticism," Samuel said.
Southeast avoided a shutout when true freshman quarterback Blake Jackson, who played much of the second half after the Redhawks fell behind 24-0, led a late 91-yard drive.
Jackson scored his first collegiate touchdown on a 14-yard run with 4:03 remaining.
But it was far too little too late for the Redhawks, whose 262 yards marked their second-lowest total of the season.
"The defense got us plenty of stops," Terrell said. "We (the offense) just didn't do our part."
Southeast's defense allowed 364 yards, its second-lowest figure this year, but the Redhawks committed all three of the game's turnovers and EKU had all four of the quarterback sacks in the contest.
"They're a good, solid football team. We just couldn't hold up," Samuel said.