Southeast stuns Middle Tennessee State on the road

Sunday, September 29, 2002

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. -- Do you believe in miracles?

Southeast Missouri State University football team apparently did. As a result, the Indians picked up what coach Tim Billings called "the biggest win in the history of our program."

The Division I-AA Indians, prohibitive underdogs against Division I-A Middle Tennessee State Saturday night, pulled off a shocking 24-14 victory.

As the clock expired with Southeast in possession of the ball, the Indians celebrated while the Raiders and most of the 27,519 fans at Floyd Stadium looked on in stunned silence.

"We were Division II not too long ago and we'd never beaten a Division I-A team before," Billings said. "We didn't beat just any I-A program tonight."

Southeast, playing its fourth straight road game, improved to 3-2 and broke a two-game losing streak. MTSU, playing at home for the first time this season, fell to 0-4. The Raiders earlier lost competitive games to Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky.

"This is no Eastern Michigan," Billings said, referring to the Indians' narrow loss at I-A Eastern Michigan earlier this year. "This is a real I-A program. They were one or two plays away from beating Alabama and they were close to Kentucky until late in the game."

Southeast quarterback Jack Tomco, who competed 14 of 23 passes for 204 yards and two touchdowns, said the Indians were out for respect Saturday night.

"Some idiot in the newspaper here picked us to lose 56-17," Tomco said. "They didn't respect us, and their fans didn't respect us. They taunted us. But we earned their respect.

"It's a great feeling. It's the biggest win I've been a part of."

Southeast went toe-to-toe with MTSU and never budged as the Indians appeared to physically dominant. And the Tribe's defense, which has struggled much of the season, turned in its best performance so far.

"In the games we lost, I figured the defense didn't do its part," Southeast senior defensive tackle James Jennette said. "Tonight we played like we know we're capable."

The Indians dominated the statistical battle with a 407 to 284 edge in total yards. That included 203 yards rushing, including 144 from Keiki Misipeka, who sealed the victory with a late 78-yard touchdown run. He carried the ball 15 times.

"It's a great feeling," Misipeka said. "We knew everybody expected us to lose and we took it personal."

Corey Kinsey added 60 yards rushing on 22 carries.

Willie Ponder caught five passes for 90 yards. Chris NesSmith had three receptions while Tarik Simpson added two. Simpson and Chuck McElroy both caught touchdown passes.

"We knew we had a tough game coming in, but we knew if we came out and played, we could do it," Ponder said.

Defensively, Ricky Farmer was credited with 11 tackles according to unofficial press box statistics. He had two quarterback sacks. Prince Anderson added 10 tackles. Jennette and Jackson High School product Caleb Daniel each had a sack as they led a strong effort up front. Central High School product O.J. Turner intercepted a late pass that led to the Indians' being able to run out the clock.

"Offensively, I felt like we ran over them. And it's the best defensive effort since I've been here," said Billings, in his third year at Southeast. "You have to give credit to our coaching staff and players. They did a great job."

Early in the game it looked like the Raiders might get their expected romp as they marched 68 yards on their first offensive possession. Quarterback Andrico Hines scored on a 1-yard sneak for a 7-0 lead just 4:05 into the contest.

But the Indians dominated the rest of the half. They tied the contest with 1:12 left in the first quarter as Tomco hit McElroy with a 2-yard touchdown pass and Derek Kutz kicked the first of his three extra points. That completed a 92-yard drive that featured passes of 36 yards to Ponder and 40 yards to Simpson.

Southeast went ahead 10-7 when Kutz booted a 44-yard field goal with 7:51 left in the second quarter, culminating a 61-yard drive. It was 10-7 at halftime.

MTSU regained a 14-10 lead on ReShard Lee's 19-yard run with 4:29 left in the third quarter.

But the Indians refused to buckle. They came back with an 80-yard march, scoring on Tomco's 17-yard pass to Simpson with 11:51 remaining in the final period for a 17-14 advantage.

The Raiders then put together a strong drive that sputtered and Brian Kelly was wide on a 33-yard field-goal attempt with 5:22 left.

"We simply did not come out focused and ready to play," Hines said. "We did not take them seriously and we paid for it."

Less than one minute later -- at the 4:26 mark -- Misipeka broke off his 78-yard TD jaunt down the right sideline that made it 24-14 and deflated the second-largest crowd in MTSU history.

"I wanted to stay humble, but I knew that touchdown really put us in good shape," Misipeka said.

Turner's interception with 2:33 remaining officially turned the lights out on the Raiders as the Indians were able to run out the clock.

"We knew we had never beaten a Division I-A team before and we wanted to make history," Ponder said.

Mission accomplished.

mmishow@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 132

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