Like a thundering herd of bison, the Savage Storm charged out of the gate Thursday for a season-opening 56-50 win over the Muleriders of Southern Arkansas at Paul Laird Field.
Fueled by the excitement of the day’s announcement of the bison as Savage Storm mascot, the football team served up an absolute classic of a game. Red shirt freshman Devlon Wortham (Wolfe City, Texas) collected 221 of the team’s 275 rushing yards on 13 carries for three touchdowns.
SAU took a 10-0 lead in the first quarter, looking every bit like the No. 2 team in the conference beating up on the sixth-ranked Savage Storm (according to a GAC preseason poll).
But Southeastern had other plans. After Wortham’s first break-out scoring run, he had a hand in the next drive which set up the first of a pair of second-quarter TD’s for Ladarius Abrams. Within the first five minutes of the second, SE had taken back the lead 14-10.
Momentum continued to build for the Storm after Chad Tucker’s 25-yard touchdown return of an interception. SE led 21-10 midway through the quarter and ended up scoring 28 points in the second for a 28-23 lead at the half.
Sophomore quarterback Nick Sioson connected on 26 of his 45 passes with only one interception and two TD’s, including a 16-yard pass to Anthony Foster in the third which gave the Storm a 35-23 lead going into the final frame.
And what a fourth quarter it was, as the ‘Riders and Storm combined for 48 points. Moments into the quarter, SAU’s Tate Mustin recovered a bad snap by Southeastern in the end zone and suddenly the lead was just 35-30.
Another touchdown two minutes later gave the Muleriders a 36-35 lead, but it would be their last time on top. They got as close as 49-43 in the final four minutes until Wortham iced his own cake on an 87-yard run on the first play from scrimmage.
The run gave SE a 13-point advantage with 94 seconds left in the game. SAU scored at 1:03 but the Storm weathered an on-side kick attempt and the Muleriders’ coach received penalties which pushed SE nearly to the red zone.
“You just take one play at a time, we’ve talked about it all day,” Southeastern Coach Ray Richards (41-43 all time at SE) said after the game. “It’s not over ‘til it’s over. Winning this first game, we’re off to a great start (and) it’s a confidence builder for us.”
There were plenty of individual superlatives in the game as well, which Richards was more than happy to point out.
“(Wortham) was a walk-on guy a year ago,” he said. “He took care of the ball and was just phenomenal.”
Punter Jared Heim had a great day, setting up the defense in good position with nine punts averaging just shy of 50 yards apiece. His long was 63 yards.
“I think he’s really grown up,” Richards said. “He was booming them all night long.”
Other top performers included Abrams (11 rushes for 43 yards and two TD’s), Anthony Foster (eight catches for 113 yards and a touchdown), Kaymon Farmer (six catches, 50 yards) and Anthony Gale (four catches, 55 yards).
Defensive stand-outs included Eric Walker with 10 tackles and Greg Jackson with eight. The Storm defense collected 69 tackles to 63 for the Muleriders.
Southeastern is off to a 1-0 start on the season and in the conference, along with Southwestern who upset top-ranked Harding 27-23 and Arkansas Tech (38-10 winners over Northwestern). The Savage Storm will visit Monticello, Ark., on Sept. 14 to take on the UAM Boll Weevils.