For the past four weeks, few things had gone right for the Southeastern Savage Storm football squad. The first half of Saturday’s Great American Classic season finale with arch-rival East Central look like a near carbon copy for a half as the visiting Tigers claimed a 17-7 lead.
In the second half however, Southeastern found a spark looked like the team of early in the season rallying for a dramatic 27-24 victory at Paul Laird Field.
It still took a career-best 48-yard field goal from junior Joel Carlos with 57 seconds remaining to give the Savage Storm their first and only lead of the contest.
When asked if there was any doubt in sending Carlos out for a career long attempt with the game on the line, Southeastern head coach Bo Atterberry never hesitated.
“It’s Joel Carlos,” he stated. “Not one person on our sideline had any doubt he was going to make that kick.”
Things looked eerily similar to the prior four games through the opening 30 minutes of play as East Central control virtually all aspects of the game while building a 10-point halftime cushion.
The Savage Storm’s first four offensive possessions netted just 26 yards and two first downs as the Tigers built a 14-0 advantage with their methodical attack.
East Central ate up 9:39 off the clock on its second offensive series, marching 92 yards in 17 plays before a RayJohn Austin-Ramsey four-yard scoring toss to Trinity Benson.
The same combination needed much less time on the next ECU possession, hooking up for a 61-yard touchdown.
Southeastern’s defense finally found a few answers, stopping the Tigers two straight times while the offense continue to sputter.
It was dynamic freshman O.J. Walker that electrified the Southeastern sideline with a 34-yard punt return deep into East Central territory.
Quarterback Rollin Kinsaul kept the drive alive with a 13-yard fourth down strike to Skye Lowe, setting up Rashod Polk’s three-yard touchdown burst.
The problem at that point was too much time remaining and following a disastrous kickoff out of bounds, the Tigers needed to move just 28 points in the waning minutes for a 35-yard Bobby Schmidt field goal.
After being stymied throughout the first two periods, Southeastern finally got its ground attack rolling on the opening drive of the third period.
The Savage Storm drove 73 yards in 15 plays but stalled at the Tiger 2 and had to settle for a Carlos 19-yard field goal to make it 17-10.
Less than two minutes later, Southeastern came up with the biggest play of the game, snatching away the momentum when Walker again went to work on a dazzling 56-yard punt return for a touchdown. Carlos booted the extra point to tie it with 6:48 left in the third quarter.
“We needed a spark and it was the special teams today that got us going,” Atterberry said. “We thought if we got the ball in the hands of O.J. he would make something happen and he did when they kicked it to him.”
A big fourth down stop by senior Damarius Lavender thwarted the next ECU chance but the Tigers set themselves up with a golden scoring chance when Tasi Tonuao picked off a Savage Storm pass and returned it to the SE 32.
East Central cashed in seven plays later, surging back in front on 10-yard Austin-Ramsey pass to Devyn Williams.
Special teams turned the tide once more as it was C.J. Elkins that returned the ensuing kickoff into Tiger territory, and Southeastern punched in the tying score in just four plays on a 13-yard connection from Kinsaul to Devon Blanton.
Ironically it was the Southeastern defense, which had been much maligned over the past three weeks, that came up with the key turnover when Sherman Gilbert intercepted an Austin-Ramsey pass with 2:08 to play.
Two Ryan Taylor runs got the Savage Storm to the East Central 31 but that’s as far as they were able to move setting up the key decision for Atterberry.
The Southeastern head coach had no reservation, sending out Carlos for the longest field goal of his career, but the junior delivered with room to spare igniting a wild celebration.
East Central quickly turned the ball over on downs and fittingly injured senior quarterback C.B. Cantwell came on the field to take the final snap of the season in victory formation.
Southeastern managed just 194 total yards offensively but took advantage of big returns and the one Tiger turnover of the game.
The Savage Storm also held East Central to 295, including 111 rushing which was 222 yards less than their season average.
“These rivalry games are always back and forth,” Atterberry commented. “I’m really proud of the way we finished this final game though after all the adversity we faced this year. This was a definite team win though.
“We’ve had a lot of ups and downs this season but I don’t think that there is another Division II program in the state of Oklahoma that’s had a four-year run like us. I’m proud of these seniors for leading us to that.”