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Special teams burn Redhawks in season-ending 42-35 loss
MURRAY, Ky. -- Southeast Missouri State's offense, with Levi Terrell running wild, clicked better than it has all year during Saturday's second half.
Unfortunately for the Redhawks, their return coverage units were about as bad as they have been in recent memory -- and likely prevented Southeast from ending the season with a win.
Murray State returned a punt 100 yards for a touchdown and a kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown. Another kickoff return went for 83 yards and set up a TD.
The dagger was the 85-yard return by junior Duane Brady with 2 minutes, 55 seconds left that came immediately after a furious Southeast rally tied things.
Host MSU held on for a wild 42-35 victory as both teams ended disappointing seasons.
"We've had so much success this year with the kicking game," Southeast coach Tony Samuel said after his squad allowed a whopping 336 yards in returns. "It came back and got us."
The Redhawks, for the second straight year, finished 3-8 overall and a seventh-place 2-6 in the nine-team Ohio Valley Conference.
It's Southeast's 19th losing season in 22 years on the Football Championship Subdivision level. The Redhawks wound up the campaign with six defeats in their final seven games.
"Everybody wants to go out with a win for the final game," said All-American linebacker Blake Peiffer, a Jackson High School graduate and one of 23 Southeast seniors. "It hurts, but I can say we fought our asses off."
Southeast overcame a 21-6 halftime deficit and a pair of 14-point second-half deficits.
"It was a crazy game," said senior linebacker Darrick Borum, who helped swing the momentum Southeast's way by recording a safety on a quarterback sack early in the second half. "You can tell everybody wanted it and gave their all."
What made the loss especially frustrating for the Redhawks is that they did just about everything necessary to win except cover kicks.
Southeast established season highs in rushing yards (446), second-half points (29), total yards (537), first downs (31) and time of possession (42 minutes).
MSU (5-6, 4-4) was held to 370 total yards, 140 under its average.
The explosive Racers had a season-low 55 offensive plays and All-American senior Casey Brockman was held under 200 yards passing for just the second time this year.
"I felt like we played really good defense except for a few plays," said Peiffer after Brockman threw for 189 yards.
Terrell, a senior tailback, piled up a career-high 215 yards rushing on 25 carries and scored two touchdowns.
Terrell's 215 yards rank sixth on Southeast's all-time single-game list. He finished the season with 1,349 yards, third-most in program history.
"I'd much rather have the win," said Terrell, who rushed for at least 100 yards in seven of Southeast's 11 games this year. Redshirt freshman quarterback Scott Lathrop followed with 119 yards rushing on 27 attempts for his fourth 100-yard game of the season. He also completed 5 of 8 passes for 78 yards and a touchdown.
"We really put it together in the second half. It's what we should have been doing all year," Lathrop said. "It's just a shame we couldn't pull it out for the seniors. I've got a lot of love for those guys."
Lathrop bounced back after true freshman Blake Jackson played the entire second quarter because Samuel thought Lathrop was pressing.
"Scotty came back and played well," Samuel said. "Levi had a great game."
Southeast managed just two first-half field goals by senior Drew Geldbach -- from 46 and 36 yards; he missed from 50 and 26 yards -- despite piling up 216 yards and trailed 21-6.
"We missed a lot of chances," Lathrop said.
Southeast's defense helped swing the momentum early in the third quarter.
Geldbach's first career punt, a 38-yarder after junior Joe Vucic injured his hamstring on a long MSU return in the first half, pinned MSU at its 1-yard line.
Brockman retreated into the end zone to pass on first down but couldn't find a receiver and was sacked by Borum for a safety, making it 21-8.
"That was a pretty good coverage sack," Borum said. "We had good momentum going."
Southeast's offense carried that momentum the rest of the way, scoring touchdowns on four straight possessions.
But special teams hurt the Redhawks after Lathrop's 3-yard TD pass to junior wide receiver D.J. Foster following the safety. Geldbach had his PAT blocked, leaving Southeast behind 21-14.
The Racers answered Foster's touchdown with a TD and also answered Terrell's 2-yard run that pulled Southeast within 28-21.
Southeast, down 35-21, got a 12-yard touchdown run from Terrell with just over nine minutes left in the final period.
The Redhawks then got a defensive stop and Southeast drove 88 yards for the tying touchdown, an 8-yard run by sophomore fullback Ron Coleman with 3 minutes, 7 seconds remaining.
Brady then ripped off his 85-yard kickoff return.
"That last one I considered a squib [kick]," Samuel said. "But with Brockman, you don't want to give him a short field."
Southeast's final possession ended with an incomplete pass on fourth-and-8 at the MSU 44-yard line with 57 seconds left. The Racers then ran out the clock.
"We were right in it until the end," Peiffer said.
Junior Walter Powell burned Southeast twice in the first half, once after the Redhawks took their only lead on Geldbach's 36-yard field goal less than six minutes into the game.
Powell's 83-yard kickoff return gave the Racers the ball at the Southeast 15. They scored three plays later.
Powell's 100-yard punt return early in the second quarter made it 14-3. The Redhawks fought an uphill battle the rest of the way.