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Racers hit gas, pass Indians
For the first time all season, Southeast Missouri State University football coach Tim Billings felt like his team laid an egg.
And for a change, Murray State coach Joe Pannunzio felt like his squad lived up to its potential.
Based on those takes, it's probably not surprising which team won Saturday afternoon's homecoming game at Houck Stadium.
Southeast, leading 21-14 at halftime, saw MSU score the first 24 points of the second half and the Racers never looked back as they eased to a 45-35 victory in front of an announced crowd of 10,100.
The Indians fell to 3-5 overall and 1-3 in Ohio Valley Conference play while the Racers evened their overall record at 3-3 and improved their OVC mark to 1-2. MSU has beaten Southeast nine straight times and leads the overall series 31-4-1.
"They kicked out butts in the second half," said an obviously distressed Billings. "This is the first game where I think we played poorly. It's real disappointing."
Said Pannunzio, whose squad had statistically outplayed previous OVC foes Tennessee Tech and Eastern Kentucky but suffered 15-12 and 21-13 losses, respectively, "We have a pretty good football team. We haven't really played to our potential yet, but I thought we did for the most part today."
Particularly in the third quarter. The Indians led 21-14 at halftime, but their offense could do nothing in the third period as the Racers seized control and never let up.
Southeast received the second-half kickoff but could not pick up a first down. Kyle East's 32-yard punt was returned 21 yards by Malcom Moore to the Indians' 48-yard line.
It took the Racers just six plays to tie the contest, Garner Byars scoring on an 11-yard run with 11:09 left in the quarter to make it 21-21.
The Indians again could not move after receiving Shane Andrus' second straight kickoff into the end zone. An 11-yard sack on quarterback Jeromy McDowell on first down pushed Southeast back to the 9 and the Indians eventually lost more yards back to the 6. A short East punt into the wind traveled just 25 yards before going out of bounds, setting MSU up at the Southeast 31.
Five players later, the Racers had the lead for good as Byars scored on a 5-yard run to make it 28-21 with 7:51 remaining in the period.
"The defense backing them up was the key in the third quarter," said MSU quarterback Stewart Childress, who passed for three touchdowns, all to Michael Slater. "They gave us great field position and we had a short field to work with."
MSU wasn't done in the third quarter, although this time it had nothing to do with a short field. After Southeast was forced to punt on its third possession of the second half, the Racers drove 78 yards in just five plays and scored on a 55-yard pass from Childress to Slater with 7.9 seconds left in the period to go up 35-21.
The Racers tacked on a 32-yard Andrus field goal with 6:29 remaining in the game to make it 38-21. The Indians rallied to within 38-28 with 4:56 left on a 26-yard pass from McDowell to Tarik Simpson, but MSU's Mandrell McGregory's 25-yard interception return off a pass from McDowell with 3:01 left made it 45-28 and sealed the victory.
"The third quarter and part of the fourth, we played as poorly as we did all year, in all areas of the game," Billings said. "In the third quarter they just came after us hard. They challenged us on both sides of the ball and we didn't respond. They pushed us around.
"We didn't get our stinger back until the fourth quarter and by then it was too late."
Southeast never trailed in the first half as the Indians got an early jump when Demar Winston returned an interception 57 yards for a touchdown in the opening minutes. The first of Derek Kutz's five extra points made it 7-0.
MSU tied it late in the first quarter on an 18-yard TD pass from Childress to Slater.
In the second period, the Indians went up 14-7 when McDowell hit Willie Ponder with a 37-yard pass. Childress found Slater from 28 yards out to make it 14-14, but with 1:54 left before halftime McDowell and Curtis Cooper hooked up on a 61-yard scoring strike to put the Indians up 21-14 at the break.
But the third quarter was all MSU and Southeast never recovered.