by Nick Growall
After falling behind early on the road, Southeastern was unable to make another late-game comeback Saturday, losing their first game of the season to the rival East Central Tigers, 37-27. The Storm falls to 2-1 on the season, and 1-1 in the Great American Conference.
Southeastern managed to make the game competitive near the end, but mistakes early in the game and a questionable call on a late-game onside kick sealed the Storm’s fate.
“I feel that we did have that onside kick, and if we’d of been able to get that, we could’ve gone down and scored and had ourselves a ballgame,” said head coach Ray Richards. “But we had two really costly fumbles on offense, and our defense gave up three passes over 30 yards for touchdowns. You just can’t have those kinds of miscues and expect to win. But I’m proud our team played hard, and played up to the end.”
The Storm fell behind early, when ECU scored three touchdown passes to go up 21-0. But the Southeastern offense finally found the end zone when junior quarterback Logan Turner connected with junior tight end Ryan Shelly.
Shelly, who was selected as the GAC Co-Offensive Player of the Week, finished the game with 14 catches and two touchdowns. His 225 receiving yards are the second-most yards by a Southeastern receiver behind Romar Crenshaw, who had a 251-yard game against Central Oklahoma back in 2001.
“He had a great day. It was good to see him go out and produce and be a playmaker for us,” said Richards.
Turner also had a record day, throwing for 383 yards, placing him fifth all time in passing yards at Southeastern. But despite the big numbers through the air, Southeastern was unable to make a comeback, due to the high-scoring of the East Central offense, led by senior Tyler Vanderzee. Vanderzee threw five touchdowns for 239 yards, with three of his scores going to senior Chris Espinoza, who finished the game with four catches for 90 yards.
Southeastern’s struggles early on were linked to the running game, which ran for only 79 yards on 24 carries. Southeastern came into the game averaging 204 yards per game through the running tandem of sophomore Brandon Bryant and freshman CJ Kirk, after losing senior Jamaal Evans in the season-opener against Central Oklahoma.
“They’re a very talented defense. They did an excellent job shutting down running game and making us one-dimensional,” said Richards.
The defense, despite ECU’s high scoring, held the Tigers to just 346 total yards, with two interceptions by sophomores Izzy Eziakor and Eric Walker. Sophomore linebacker Houston Slemp also had a big day, leading the defense for the third-straight week with 13 tackles.
The Storm returns to Paul Laird Field to face Southwestern Oklahoma State on Saturday, Oct. 1 at 6 p.m.
“They’re not the same team as in the past,” said Richards. “They’re a much improved team that’s been rebuilding over the past couple of years. It will definitely be a challenge for us.”
In closing, Richards brought up some keys for his team’s success. “Our offense needs to focus on limiting turnovers, and our defense cannot allow the big plays downfield. We’ve had several plays go for touchdowns against us that were 30 yards or more.”