By Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information
CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. – For Tennessee Tech, 5-1 didn't happen. The Golden Eagles come home 4-2, but there's no reason to hang their heads.
Tech played one of its grittiest games of the year, coming up with play after play when it needed to and fell in double overtime, 43-37, to Football Championship Subdivision No. 23 Southeast Missouri, a team that made an appearance in the FCS playoffs a season ago.
"I'm proud of this team," said Tech coach Dewayne Alexander. "I couldn't be any prouder of this team, even if we did win the game tonight. Three weeks on the road and to do what our guys have done, then to play a double-overtime game, I couldn't be any prouder.
"I'm going to tell everyone we have a really good football team. There is no fluke. We are 4-2. We have got a good football team. We're 1-1 in the league and we have an opportunity to line up in these next OVC games and beat anybody we play. Anyone who plays Tennessee Tech is going to have their hands full, I assure you that. We have a resilient team, a tough team. We're going to do the same thing whether we won or lost this game – look at the game Sunday, put it behind us on Monday, then we better be ready to play."
It could have been simple to listen to the accolades Southeast Missouri had coming into the season or remember the loss to the Redhawks last season. Instead, the Golden Eagles came in and gave SEMO a fight, trying to prove to all the naysayers that Tennessee Tech does indeed belong in the OVC picture.
"These guys have fought their guts out, came in here and took the fight to them," Alexander said. "They played hard, but like I've said the last two weeks, we still make some mistakes that are hard to overcome. We had a couple of turnovers early in the game to give them a short field. We had a bad punt to give them a short field. We missed a field goal, but Haidar (Zaidan) made a big one to force the game into overtime, but we had a drive deep in their territory that we got no points out of in the fourth quarter."
Alexander continued, "It's amazing. The energy this team came in here with speaks a lot about these guys. They fought their tail off and I'm very proud of them. A tip of the cap to (SEMO coach Tom) Matukewicz and his guys, they do a great job and I have a lot of respect for him and how his guys play. They really fought back and put drives together when they needed to and put the game where we needed to score in the end."
SEMO (3-2, 1-0 OVC) scored a touchdown in the second OT as Zion Custis rushed for a 13-yard score, then Kendrick Tiller missed the point-after, giving the Golden Eagles a chance in its possession.
However, the Redhawks' defense came up with a big defensive effort to stall the Golden Eagles. Ryan Ochoa sacked Bailey Fisher on the first play, then the sophomore threw two passes, forcing fourth down.
The magic Tech had pulled together earlier in the game didn't come through on the final heave as Fisher threw to the end zone with Darrius Stafford in double coverage and couldn't connect.
But the result was not indicative of the fight Tech showed throughout the contest. The Redhawks led for most of the first half, but senior Haidar Zaidan, kicking his first field goals and PATs of the season since the season opener against Samford, tied the game at 20 as time expired in the first half with a 35-yard kick.
After Fisher put Tech on top 27-20 on an eight-yard keeper, the Golden Eagles tried to preserve its lead. Tiller added a 35-yard field goal of his own, bouncing the ball off of both uprights and through, in the waning moments of the third quarter, then the Redhawks took the lead as Geno Hess scored on a one-yard run with 1:36 remaining in the fourth quarter. The PAT gave SEMO a 30-27 lead.
Tech started on its own 36, then Fisher threw a 26-yard pass to Fleming to get the Golden Eagles to the SEMO 38. As time ticked down, the Golden Eagles couldn't convert for the first down, leaving Tech facing a desperate 4th-and-6 from the SEMO 34.
On came Zaidan. The senior booted the ball through, tying the game at 30-all.
SEMO tried to win the contest in regulation on the final drive, but Tech stopped them just inside Golden Eagle territory as time expired in the fourth quarter.
On Tech's first drive in overtime, it took five plays, but the Golden Eagles found paydirt as Andrew Goldsmith rushed in for a three-yard score and Zaidan hit the PAT. SEMO responded as Mark Robinson rushed for his third touchdown of the night.
Fisher ended the contest with 290 yards and two passing touchdowns as he completed 26 of his 54 passes. He completed a 66-yard touchdown strike to David Gist and a three-yard TD pass to Goldsmith. The sophomore also rushed for 68 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries.
True freshman Metrius Fleming ended the game with nine catches for 108 yards and rushed for 16 yards and a touchdown on two carries. He also had five kickoff returns for 122 yards, including a 31-yard return to set up the game-tying drive before the end of regulation.
The Golden Eagle defense sacked SEMO quarterback Daniel Santacaterina four times as Chris Tucker recorded 1.5 sacks, Henry Karimu and Xavier Schlueter one and Jale'n Gladney a half-sack. Adam Swayze, who missed last week's contest at Eastern Illinois, picked off a pass in the end zone.
Santacaterina ended the game with 172 yards and a touchdown on 12-of-27 passing, while Zion Curtis ran for 117 yards and a score. Kristian Wilkerson caught five passes for 124 yards.
The Golden Eagles (4-2, 1-1 OVC) return home to face UT Martin on Saturday. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m.
"We've got UT Martin getting ready to come in," Alexander said. "We're going to want to win and they're going to come into Cookeville looking for an OVC win. We don't have time to sit around and think about it very long. We will roll our sleeves up and get back to work. One thing I do know is this team deserves your support."
Photo by Tony Marable