It all comes down to this.
It’s taken more than three months and nothing has been determined as to who will represent the Ohio Valley Conference in the upcoming Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) playoffs.
The only thing that has been made clear is that it will be either Southeast Missouri or UT Martin. Or maybe even both, depending on how things transpire on fields in Cape Girardeau, Mo. and Martin, Tenn. on Saturday.
SEMO and UT Martin are both sitting atop the current conference standings with perfect 4-0 records. Because of the scheduling agreement put in place this season between the OVC and the ASUN, the Redhawks and Skyhawks will not meet.
SEMO has a chance to finish 5-0 in the league with a win over visiting Murray State on Saturday, while UT Martin can also finish with a perfect conference record with a win over Eastern Illinois. Both the Racers and Panthers sit at the bottom of the league standings with identical 1-3 conference records heading into the final weekend of the regular season.
OVC-LEADING REDHAWKS ROLL PAST PANTHERS 31-7
CHARLESTON, Ill. – With the end of the regular season approaching, Southeast Missouri’s bid to advance to the FCS playoffs is rather simple.
Just keep winning.
It took some time, but the 19th-ranked Redhawks did just that by scoring 31 unanswered points to overcome an early deficit and went on to defeat Eastern Illinois 31-7 on Nov. 12 at O’Brien Field in Charleston.
The win kept SEMO perfect in Ohio Valley Conference play with a 4-0 record and improved the Redhawks to 8-2 on the season. The Panthers dropped to 1-3 in the conference and 2-8 on the season with the loss.
The eight wins already this season marked just the fifth time in history SEMO has won as many games in a single season.
The win also gave SEMO coach Tom Matukewicz the 50th win of his career. He now has 49 victories in his nine seasons at the helm of the SEMO program. His other win as a coach came in 2010 while serving as the interim coach at Northern Illinois.
Patrick Heitert made his first collegiate appearance by replacing starting quarterback CJ Ogbonna under center for the Redhawks and immediately made his presence known. He completed the first two passes of his career, including a 30-yard completion to Johnny King and capped the drive by running in from seven yards out to tie the game 7-7 with 9:45 left to play in the second quarter against the Panthers.
And the SEMO defense also did its part in the game by forcing a pair of EIU turnovers that led to the next 14 points of the game as the Redhawks pushed their lead to 21-7.
Mali Walton was the impetus of that run when he intercepted a Dom Shoffner pass on the next possession to help set up a 31-yard run by Geno Hess two plays later to give SEMO its first lead of the at 14-7 just 61 seconds later.
They extended the advantage to 21-7 on a 10-yard scamper by Hess less than two minutes later after Keandre Booker picked off another pass by Shoffner.
Hess would add his third TD of the game on a short one-yard score with 9:15 remaining in the game to close the scoring in the contest.
DC Pippin, who had missed on two field goal attempts earlier in the game, had connected on a 41-yard attempt late in the third quarter to account for the only other points of the second half for the Redhawks. His successful kick gave his team a 24-7 advantage with 2:11 left to go in the third period.
Snowy conditions and a temperature of just 33 degrees at kickoff made for some slow going as both offenses had trouble establishing any sort of offense in the early going. The two teams managed to combine for just 95 yards of offense in the first period.
Eastern Illinois notched its only points of the game after the Panthers’ Zay Gentry had recovered a muffed punt at the SEMO 12-yard line. Jael Benefield ran in from four yards out just three plays later to give his team a 7-0 lead with 12:45 to go before halftime.
Hess finished the game with 198 yards on 30 carries and the three touchdowns for the Redhawks. After breaking several school rushing records earlier this season, Hess added another against the Panthers. His 198 yards marked the 15th time in his SEMO career he had surpassed the 100-yard plateau in a game.
Heitert tallied 140 yards passing in the contest after completing 11 of 17 passes and throwing one interception. He also added 31 yards rushing on seven carries in the game.
Paxton DeLaurent, who had started the first nine games of the season at QB for SEMO, missed the game because of a foot injury.
King paced the Redhawks in receiving with four receptions for 55 yards while Damoriea Vick and Will Weidemann both caught three passes in the game for 39 and 35 yards, respectively.
The SEMO defense, paced by Bryce Norman’s game-high 11 total tackles, limited the Panthers to just 100 total yards in the game, the second-fewest by any opponent in SEMO’s NCAA Division 1 era. The Redhawks also tallied three sacks, two interceptions and seven tackles for loss in the game against the Panthers.
MJ Flowers rushed eight times for 38 yards to lead the Panthers. One of his carries went for 22 yards, meaning the other seven rushes netted a total of just 16 yards against the stingy SEMO defense. Benefield chipped in with 21 yards on five carries.
Shoffner struggled throughout the day battling the weather conditions and the Redhawk’s defense. He completed just two of 11 passes for 12 yards while Justin Kowalak threw four passes and completing just one for nine yards as the Panthers managed just 21 yard through the air.
SKYHAWKS CLAIM FIFTH STRAIGHT SGT. YORK TROPHY
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – With the hopes of a conference championship still very much alive, UT Martin had another matter to take care of with a win against in-state rival Tennessee State.
The Skyhawks did just that with a 20-3 win over the Tigers on Nov. 12 at Nissan Stadium.
It was the fewest point UTM has allowed this season.
The win improved UTM to 4-0 in league play and 6-4 on the season as the Skyhawks kept pace with SE Missouri atop the OVC standings. Tennessee State, meanwhile, dropped to 2-3 in the OVC and 3-7 on the season with the loss.
The win allowed UT Martin to retain possession of the Sgt. York Trophy that is awarded to the team with the best record against in the season matchups between UTM, Tennessee State and Tennessee Tech for state bragging rights.
The Skyhawks have now won the trophy in 10 of the past 13 seasons, including each of the past five seasons.
UT Martin wasted little time in setting the tone against the Tigers by scoring on its first offensive series of the contest. They added a defensive touchdown later in the period to extend the advantage to 14-0.
The Skyhawks took the opening kickoff and marched swiftly downfield before QB Dresser Winn for Colton Dowell for a 14-yard scoring pass for the first score of the game. The drive took seven plays and covered 77 yards while consuming just 2:51 off the clock before UTM gained control of the game.
It was the 17th TD pass of the season for Winn and was the 18th for Dowell in his career and moved him into third place in school history in that department.
Nearly eight minutes later UTM safety Ty Woods stepped in front of a Draylen Ellis pass and returned the interception 39 yards for the score to extend the advantage to 14-0 with 3:25 to go in the opening period.
Tennessee State managed a lone field goal in the game when Kaleb Mosley connected from 20 yards out on the final play of the first half to make the score 14-3 heading into the intermission.
The Skyhawks closed out the scoring in the game when Winn scored on a one-yard keeper early in the final stanza.
UT Martin amassed 365 yards of total offense on the afternoon as Winn completed 16 of 28 passes for 182 yards and tacking on 16 yards rushing on four carries in the game.
Zak Wallace and Sam Franklin combined for 196 yards on the ground for the Skyhawks. Wallace led the way with 115 yards on 21 carries, while Franklin, who was making his first career start, also carried 21 times for 81 yards.
Deven Sims paced victors with six tackles in the game as UTM limited the Tigers to just 235 yards of offense and 11 first downs.
Ellis completed just 18 of 38 passes in the game for 161 yards and threw a pair of interceptions. He was also sacked three times. Teammate Jalen Rouse led the Tigers in rushing with 57 yards on three carries.
EFFICIENT OFFENSE, BIG-PLAY DEFENSE PROPEL GOLDEN EAGLES TO 35-27 TRIUMPH
FLORENCE, Ala. – Tennessee Tech’s offense was operating near peak efficiency and the Golden Eagle defense did its part by coming up big on several occasions to stymy North Alabama on the way to posting a 35-27 win over the Lions on Nov. 12.
Tech improved to 4-6 overall with the non-conference triumph after scoring touchdowns on five of its eight possessions in the game.
The hosts had a chance to make things interesting in the latter stages of the game by putting together an 18-play drive and moving to the Tech 10-yard line with 6:49 left to play in the game. Faced with a fourth-and-goal, the Lions opted for a 27-yard field goal from Sam Contorno in the hope they would get another chance to move closer the next time they had the ball.
The chance came too late to add any more points.
Tech chewed up 5:40 by picking up three first downs and moving to the North Alabama 34 before QB Jeremiah Oatsvall pulled off a quick-kick that set up the Lions first their last possession and needing to go 89 yards in the final 69 seconds of the game.
The Lions did have a chance to score again when Noah Walters threw to the end zone on successive passes only to both attempts fall incomplete and TTU took over with six seconds left.
Oatsvall finished the game with 183 yards through the air after completing 14 of his 21 pass attempts while tacking on 67 yards rushing on eight carries in the contest to account for his 250 yards of total offense against the Lions.
As a team, the Golden Eagles chalked up 268 yards rushing and were paced by Jayvian Allen, who had 70 yards on nine carries and adding an 18-yard TD reception. He also tacked on 37 yards on kick returns to finish with 125 all-purpose yards versus the Lions.
David Gist, whose 63 yards on the ground moved him into fifth place on the school’s all-time rushing charts as he surpassed Jason Ballard’s 2,315 yards. Gist now has 2,365 yards in his Tech career.
UNA standout ShunDerrick Powell scored his nation-leading 18th rushing touchdown this season as part of his 151-yard performance. He now has a single season school-best 1,473 yards heading into this week’s season finale at Memphis.
QB Noah Walters passed for 333 yards in the game for the Lions by completing 21 of 36 passes and threw for two touchdowns. Five of his completions went for at least 31 yards to five different pass catchers.
OVC NEWCOMER LINDENWOOD CLOSES SEASON WITH IMPRESSIVE 63-35 WIN
ST. CHARLES, Mo. – Lindenwood’s first season a member of the Ohio Valley Conference came to a close with an impressive 63-35 win over visiting McKendree on Nov. 12 at Hunter Stadium in St. Charles, Mo.
The Lions finished the regular season with a 7-3 overall record and finished 1-3 in OVC play. McKendree dropped to 5-6 on the season with the loss.
QB Cade Brister connected with Payton Rose on a 15-yard scoring pass on his team’s first possession of the game to stake the Lions to an early 7-0 advantage against the visiting Bearcats. Brister later scored on a seven-yard run to push the Lindenwood lead to 14-0 at the end of the first quarter.
McKendree closed to within 14-7 early in the second quarter before Brister ran in for his second TD of the contest to stake the Lions to a 21-7 advantage.
Just two plays later, Lindenwood’s Lloyd Lockett intercepted a McKendree pass and Brister marched the Lions on a six-play drive that covered 93 yards before Brister scored on his third TD run of the day to push the advantage to 24-7 at the time.
A quick three-and-out by the Bearcats set the tone for Brister and Rose to connect for the second time when Rose hauled in a one-handed catch to extend the Lindenwood lead to 35-14 at the intermission.
McKendree appeared to have found new life after recovering a fumble on the kickoff to begin the second half. The Bearcats scored five plays later to pull to within 35-21 at the time.
Then it was Brister and Rose who teamed up for a third TD score of the afternoon that pushed the advantage back to 21 points in favor of the Lions.
That started a barrage of points as the two teams moved up and down the field, including a pass from Brister to offensive lineman Blake Rogenhofer for a five-yard TD to put the Lions in front 56-28 at the time. A short time later Andrew Martin scored on his second touchdown run of the afternoon to close the scoring in the game.
Brister, who orchestrated a Lindenwood offense that churned out 631 yards of total offense (9.6 yards per play) on the afternoon, finished the day with 145 yards rushing that accounted for a big chunk of his team’s 362 rushing yards on the afternoon. He finishes his Lindenwood with more than 2,000 yards rushing.
Brister masterfully led the Lions’ offense that converted on all six third-down opportunities in the game that helped LU to scores on eight of nine trips into the red zone against the Bearcats. The 35 first downs recorded by the Brister-led offense was nearly split with 18 of those coming via the run and 17 through the air.
Martin, meanwhile, led all rushers in the game with 152 yards to go along with his two touchdowns.
Turner Pullen was the leader of the McKendree offense. He completed 30 of 45 passes in the game for 286 and threw for one touchdown. His two favorite receivers on the day were Yogi Flager and Jacob Bachman, who combined for 21 catches and 197 yards. Flager led the way with 114 yards on nine receptions, while Bachman hauled in a game-high 13 catches for 83 yards of his own.
Teammate Ronnie Hunsaker led the team in rushing with 72 yards on just four carries, including one run that covered 61 yards in the game.
LATE RALLY LIFTS RACERS PAST ROBERT MORRIS 27-9
MURRAY, Ken. – It took some time, but in the end Murray State picked up a milestone win with a 27-9 win over Robert Morris on Nov. 12 at Roy Stewart Stadium.
The win was the 500th in the 98-year history of football at Murray State and the Racers are now 500-462-36 all-time.
Robert Morris held a precarious 9-7 lead as the two teams entered the final period of play before the Racers exploded for three touchdowns to overtake the Colonials and go on to post the win.
A 24-yard touchdown run by Cortezz Jones early in the final period was enough to push MSU back into the lead at 13-9 following a missed conversion attempt with 13:41 remaining in the game.
Teammate Damonta Witherspoon added another touchdown a short time later by running in from 20 yards out and Jones tallied another 24-yard scamper with 2:38 remaining in the contest to close the scoring and virtually ending any hopes of RMU for a comeback.
The Racers, who tallied 249 yards rushing in the game, were led by Witherspoon’s 80 yards (19 carries) and Jones’ 75 yards on 10 rushes in the game. Lucas Maue chipped in with 52 yards on just six carries.
Jyaden Stinson passed for 145 yards after completing 12 of his 23 pass attempts, including one completion to Taylor Shields that covered 28 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter that gave Murray State the early 7-0 lead in the game. It was Shields’ only reception on the afternoon.
DeQuan Dallas (six catches) and LaMartez Brooks (three catches) led the Racers with 55 and 48 yards, respectively, in receiving.
Cody Goatley and Eric Samuta had impressive days for the Racers by combining for 18 tackles against the Colonials. Goatley racked up 10 (five solo) tackles, including 2.5 tackles for loss and one sack. Samuta, meanwhile, tallied eight solo tackles in the game for Murray State.
Robert Morris, a member of the Big South Conference, was limited to just 166 yards of total offense in the game. Quarterback Zach Tanner passed for 92 yards (18-36) while Alijah Jackson led the Colonials with 50 yards on 17 carries as RMU was held to just 74 yards on the ground.
Current OVC Standings (thru games of Nov. 12)
1 – SE Missouri 4-0 8-2
UT Martin 4-0 6-4
3 – Tennessee Tech 2-3 4-4
Tennessee State 2-3 3-7
5 – Lindenwood 1-3 7-3
6 – Eastern Illinois 1-3 2-8
Murray State 1-3 2-9
This Week’s Schedule
Eastern Illinois at UT Martin
Murray State at SE Missouri
North Carolina Central at Tennessee Tech
Tennessee State at Texas A&M-Commerce
A native of Bismarck, N.D., Ray is a graduate of North Dakota State University where he began studying athletic training and served as a student trainer for several Bison teams including swimming, wrestling and baseball and was a trainer at the 1979 NCAA national track and field championship meet at the University of Illinois. Ray later worked in the sports information office at NDSU. Following his graduation from NDSU he spent five years in the sports information office at Missouri Western State University and one year in the sports information at Georgia Tech. He has nearly 40 years of writing experience as a sports editor at several newspapers and has received numerous awards for his writing over the years. A noted sports historian, Ray is currently an assistant editor at Amateur Wrestling News.