Eastern Michigan rallies in Indians' first defeat

Sunday, September 15, 2002

YPSILANTI, Mich. -- Deja vu.

A little more than a year after Eastern Michigan converted on fourth down and scored a late touchdown to beat Southeast Missouri State University's football team, the Division I-A Eagles did it again to the Division I-AA Indians on Saturday

Troy Edwards' 16-yard TD pass to Kevin Walter on fourth-and-2 with 55 seconds remaining lifted the Eagles to a wild 35-32 victory in front of 9,581 fans at Rynearson Stadium.

But even then, the Eagles' first win of the season wasn't secured until Derek Kutz came up just short on a 48-yard field-goal attempt as time expired.

"It was deja vu again," Edwards said. "It's weird the way that worked out."

Not weird as much as it was disheartening for the Indians (2-1), who again came close to beating a Division I-A team for the first time in the program's history.

"We had an opportunity to make some plays late and we didn't do it," Southeast coach Tim Billings said. "It's a tough loss, but I'm proud of the kids. Even on that last drive after they scored, we felt like we would come back and at least tie it up."

The Indians nearly did when quarterback Jack Tomco, who had a huge second half and a strong overall performance, drove Southeast from its own 24-yard line with 50 seconds remaining.

Tomco hit Chris NesSmith for 21 yards to the EMU 46 with 16 seconds left. After Tomco spiked the ball to stop the clock, he and NesSmith hooked up again for 15 yards to the 31 when NesSmith got out of bounds with four seconds left.

On came Kutz, who appeared to be dead center with the 48-yard field-goal attempt that fell about a yard short.

"It was real close. It was straight on and I thought it had a chance, but the wind that had been blowing that way all night all of a sudden died down," Billings said.

Tomco, who completed 24 of 33 passes for 298 yards and two touchdowns, said he was confident the Indians would be able to at least send the game to overtime.

"We thought when we got the ball back that we were going to score," he said.

The Indians built an early 10-0 lead. They scored on their second offensive play of the game as Tomco hit Willie Ponder on a 54-yard pass, then Kutz kicked a 25-yard field goal set up by Keiki Misipeka's 68-yard run to make it 10-0 with 6:07 left in the first quarter.

EMU rallied for a 14-10 halftime lead. Southeast scored on the opening drive of the second half as Misipeka's 1-yard plunge put the Indians back on top 17-14.

But the Eagles then appeared to take control after they scored on their next two possessions to carry a 28-17 lead into the fourth quarter. EMU coach Jeff Woodruff, however, never felt safe.

"We knew they were capable of putting points up in a hurry," Woodruff said. "They have a 6-foot-5, 240-pound quarterback, an All-American receiver in Willie Ponder who can play for anybody in the country and a big, physical offensive line. We knew they weren't done."

Woodruff was right. With 13:21 left in the final period, Tomco hit NesSmith with a 22-yard TD to cap an 80-yard drive. Tomco then hit little-used freshman T.J. Milcic on a two-point conversion to make it 28-25.

After Southeast's defense forced a punt, the Indians drove 73 yards to take a 32-28 lead on Misipeka's 5-yard run with 8:16 remaining.

"We kept battling and battling," said Misipeka, Southeast's dominant running back Saturday with 126 yards on 14 carries after leading rusher Corey Kinsey was held to 29 yards on 13 attempts. "We know they're a Division I-A team, but we felt all along like we could play right with them."

Southeast's defense then held again to force a punt, which backed the Indians up to their 4-yard line with 6:34 remaining. Southeast picked up two first downs and burned nearly four minutes off the clock before stalling at its 40.

Following a 44-yard punt by Jeff East -- Southeast's redshirt freshman quarterback who took over for regular punter Andrew Winters late in the game -- EMU started on its 16-yard line with 2:38 remaining.

The Eagles crisply moved down the field but then were faced with the do-or-die 4th-and-2 play from Southeast's 16. A stop would have meant certain victory for the Indians, but Edwards found Walter on a slant pattern over the middle that easily would have netted a first down but turned into a touchdown when Walter broke a tackle.

"Troy saw me open up and I was wide open," Walter said. "I just had to catch the ball and run."

Said Billings, "Believe it or not, we had double coverage on the last touchdown. But they made the play and we didn't."

For the second straight year.

mmishow@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 132

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