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Ponder puts Indians over the top in 36-30 win
That Southeast Missouri State University's Willie Ponder would score the game-winning touchdown Saturday night isn't surprising. After all, he is a Division I-AA All-American wide receiver who already had racked up 11 touchdowns this season.
But the way Ponder reached the end zone in the final seconds against Tennessee Tech was unconventional to say the least.
Ponder fell on a blocked punt in the end zone with 8.5 seconds remaining to cap a wild 36-30 victory in front of an announced Houck Stadium crowd of 2,125 fans who braved nasty weather to see another down-to-the-wire finish by the Indians.
"It got crazy at the end," Ponder said. "I'm just glad we were able to come out with a win."
The Indians, breaking a two-game losing streak, improved to 6-4 overall and 3-2 in the Ohio Valley Conference. The Eagles, who lost their fifth straight, fell to 2-7 and 0-4.
"Every game is this way," Southeast coach Tim Billings said, smiling. "I call them the cardiac kids."
Ponder's touchdown capped a wild final minute in which both teams had an opportunity to grab control of a game that was tied at 30.
First, the Eagles had the ball at their 22-yard line with 59 seconds left following a punt, but on third-and-10 Southeast freshman safety Anthony Lumpkin intercepted a tipped pass, giving the Indians possession at the Tech 42 with 36.9 seconds remaining.
On the next play, Tech's Ben Mebane intercepted a Jack Tomco pass at his 26, but three straight incompletions left the Eagles in a punting situation with under 20 seconds left. However, Chris Cummings was swarmed under by several Indians and sophomore cornerback Dimitri Patterson got the ball cleanly as it began bouncing toward the Tech goal line.
"I'd gotten close earlier in the game and I knew it was only a matter of time before I got one," Patterson said.
Ponder tried to scoop up the ball as it rolled toward the end zone but he couldn't grab it cleanly. Finally, the ball bounced into the end zone and Ponder was able to get on top of it -- he thinks.
"I pushed it along and tried to pick it up, but I couldn't quite get it," Ponder said. "I think I fell on it, but there were a lot of people around the ball."
The touchdown was indeed credited to Ponder, which he gladly accepted.
"I'm trying to come up with different ways to score," he said with a laugh. "But it was a big play by everybody on special teams. It was a lot of effort by a bunch of guys."
Ponder, who has been playing in the secondary late in close games to take advantage of his athletic ability, almost scored another touchdown on the game's final play as he intercepted a desperation pass and returned it 51 yards before finally being tripped up at the Tech 5.
"I tried to take that pick to the house," he said, grinning. "But it's a big win for us. We're trying to get a winning season, which would be great for our program."
Southeast had several chances at touchdowns in the first half but twice had to settle for short Derek Kutz field goals, from 20 and 25 yards out.
The Indians' only first-half TD came via the defense as junior end Ryan Roth scooped up a fumble in the air early in the second quarter and scored untouched from 17 yards out, giving Southeast a temporary 9-7 lead.
"Somebody hit the receiver and it bounced right to me. You couldn't have painted a more perfect picture," Roth said. "It's my first touchdown ever and it felt good."
Tech led 13-12 at halftime and went up 20-12 midway though the third quarter.
Southeast tied the contest later in the period as Tomco hit Chris NesSmith from 3 yards out and Tomco hooked up with T.J. Milcic for the two-point conversion.
The Eagles held one more lead, at 23-20, but Kutz booted a 20-yard field goal on the final play of the third quarter for a 23-23 tie.
Southeast went ahead 30-23 with 9:42 left, driving 92 yards after a Marco Tipton interception. Keiki Misipeka scored on a 3-yard run.
Tech countered on quarterback Robert Kraft's 1-yard sneak with 2:09 remaining, forging a 30-30 tie and setting the stage for the wild finish.
The Eagles held a slim 338-325 edge in total yardage.
Tomco completed 20 of 35 passes for 236 yards. Freshman Jamel Oliver, who had not caught a pass prior to Saturday, led the way with four receptions for 65 yards as he made several crucial grabs.
"Jamel came up big," Billings said.
Misipeka also caught four passes out of the backfield while Corey Kinsey rushed for 81 yards on 23 carries.
For Tech, Jason Ballard rushed for 111 yards on 27 attempts, but Kraft completed just 14 of 36 passes for 122 yards.
"My hat's off to Tech. They're a good team and they played us tough," Ponder said. "We're just glad to win."
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