Southeastern’s football game ended Saturday much the same way the entire season has gone: So close to redemption and victory, and yet so far out of reach.
The 23-16 loss to East Central at Paul Laird Field started with promise for the Savage Storm. The home team took a tantalizing 9-0 lead, watched it slip away as the Tigers scored 23 straight in the middle quarters, then hope returned on a late touchdown for Devlon Wortham.
But a goal line stand for the Storm saw four potential scoring passes deflected in the final minute of the ball game.
The roller coaster ride mirrored the Southeastern season: A game one win followed by four straight losses, three of those by less than 10 points. Then a win over Southern Nazarene in mid-season had the Storm at 2-3 in the conference.
But SE dropped their final five games - only one of them a blowout and a deceptive one as Harding scored 21 fourth quarter points in a Nov. 2 decision over the Storm. SE finishes 2-9 on the season and 2-8 in the Great American Conference to land 10th out of 11 teams.
It completes Southeastern’s fourth straight losing season and a fourth consecutive loss to the rival Tigers, who now take a 46-45-6 advantage in the all-time series. Coach Ray Richards, who had hoped to rise above .500 for his career this season, falls to 42-52 in nine seasons at SE and 56-82 overall.
Storm running back Devlon Wortham picked up 138 yards on 25 carries to finish with 1,119 on the season - the first SE player to cross that threshold since 2010. He also scored the last Storm touchdown of the season with 7:03 left in the fourth.
Receiver Anthony Foster picked up 60 yards on five catches, including a 44-yard scoring pass from Nick Sioson in the first quarter. Foster finishes with 1,036 yards, giving SE its fourth receiver in school history to reach that goal.
Sioson, the sophomore quarterback for SE, was 28-for-52 with 253 yards while enduring three sacks and two interceptions. His 2,958 yards, coupled with the feats of Foster and Wortham, gives SE its first 1,000-yard rusher/receiver tandem and 2,000-yard passer for the first time.
Junior linebacker Derek Ogg put up the biggest defensive numbers with 16 total solo and assisted tackles - double that of the next closest Storm defender Greg Jackson.
The Storm struck first on a 43-yard field goal by Chris Peoples just two and a half minutes into the game. Foster’s score from a Sioson pass later in the quarter set up SE’s 9-0 lead. Coleman native Blake Tubbs was also credited for a tackle on the ensuing kickoff return.
The Tigers returned an interception into the red zone early in the second to set up a 9-yard TD pass from Madill native Spencer Bond to Caleb Holley. Closer to halftime, Trevor Hunt kicked a 28-yard field goal to tie the game at nine each.
Less than two minutes into the third, Sioson was sacked and fumbled the ball. ECU’s Lindsey Anderson recovered the fumble and returned it 36 yards for a Tiger defensive score. A 43-yard return for Keelen Green and a 20-yard pickup for Wortham went for naught as Wortham was stripped and ECU recovered.
The Tigers slipped out of a pair of fourth-and-one situations to set up a big catch in the red zone for Gainesville, Texas, freshman David Moore. The result was a penalty-fueled TD for East Central and a 23-9 lead going into the fourth.
Raheem Wilson’s INT catch deep in Storm territory set up a 13-play 80-yard drive which ended with Wortham diving across the plane. Peoples hit the point-after kick - his 34th in 37 tries this season and his last as a kicker for the Savage Storm.
Peoples was one of eight senior Southeastern players honored in a pre-game ceremony. The others are cornerback Eric Walker, wide receivers Keelen Green and Chad Laury, defensive end Coby Ragsdale, lineman Mark Idell, O-lineman Adrian Adams and tackle Simeon Stevenson.