CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. — Ronald Butler found Patrick Smith for a 14-yard touchdown pass with 16 seconds remaining in regulation to give Tennessee State a 32-31 come from behind victory at Southeast Missouri State on Saturday afternoon. With the win the Tigers close out the regular season at 7-4 overall, 4-3 in Ohio Valley Conference play, while Southeast Missouri falls to 3-8, 3-5 in the OVC.
SEMO used a 26 yard field goal from Ryan McCrum to extend its lead to 31-25 with 2:48 left on the clock. The Redhawks then received a big tackle on the ensuing kickoff, pinning the Tigers at the 12 yard line.
Butler opened the drive with a 23 yard strike to Smith for some breathing room as the junior receiver stepped out of bounds at the 35. Two plays later the duo teamed up again, this time for 28 yards moving TSU to the SEMO 32. After a pair of running plays, Butler found Steven Newbold for 13 yards on a third-and-five, which put TSU at the 14 yard line. Two plays later Butler connected with Smith to even the score at 31-31. Lane Clark added the extra point giving TSU the one point advantage.
The Redhawks tried a long pass play on the final play of the game, but senior Ezra Robinson pulled down his fifth interception of the season to secure the win. The Tigers had gone four games without a pick, after collecting 12 in the first six games of the season.
Smith finished the game with a career high 11 catches as he went for 166 yards and two touchdowns.
Butler closed out his career completing 18-of-34 passes for 279 yards and four touchdowns. Butler cemented himself in the TSU record books finishing seventh in passing attempts (678), eighth in completions (385) and seventh in touchdown passes (43).
SEMO jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead with a score on the opening drive of the game. The Tigers needed to wait a couple series before pulling even when Butler found Mahlon Medley from a yard out.
The Tigers earned their first lead of the game as Clark converted on a 46 yard field goal for a 10-7 lead just before the end of the first quarter.
SEMO used the first of three field goals from McCrum to knot things up at 10-10, 3:11 before half time.
The Tigers moved quickly down the field, keyed by a 20 yard pass from Butler to Newbold, giving the offense a chance to put more points on the board. The drive would stall setting up a Clark 49 yard attempt into the wind. The Hays, Kan. native drilled a low kick over the cross bar with room to spare as TSU jumped in front 13-10.
The kick capped off a terrific junior campaign, as it entered the record books as the eighth longest in school history. The mark goes along with four others on the season including the top three (57, 55, 54) to go along with the fifth longest at TSU (52).
Clark’s eight points on the day gives him 89 on the season, trailing only Jamin Godfrey (97) from 2013 for most points for a kicker in a single season. The kicker’s 17 made field goals in 2016 fell one short of Godfrey’s 18 in 2013.
After a McCrum field goal, the Tigers regained its lead in the third quarter as Butler once again found Medley in the middle of the field for a 38 yard scoring play. The touchdown was the second on the day for Medley and third of the season. The sophomore tight end caught three balls for 58 yards. The point after was blocked, leaving the score at 19-13.
The Redhawks stormed back to take a 20-19 advantage heading into the final stanza. TSU needed just over a minute in the final quarter to move back on top as Butler and Smith got together for a one yard touchdown pass in the back corner of the end zone. The two-point attempt failed leaving the Tigers ahead, 25-20.
The score tipped off an electric fourth quarter for the 3,117 in attendance which sat in temperatures in the 40’s. The Redhawks took advantage of a bad snap by the TSU special teams to move down and score, as well as converting on the two-point play to take a 28-25 lead.
SEMO would then use another miscue as a punt went off a TSU defender giving them the ball deep in Tigers territory, setting up the final field goal by McCrum.
Defensively, the Tigers were led by Chris Collins who finished with 10 tackles and assisted on a pair of tackles for loss. David Kamara added nine tackles, three for loss.
TSU received a big rushing performance from freshman Earl Harrison. The running back recorded career highs with 23 attempts and 168 yards. The Memphis, Tenn. native busted through the middle for an apparent 68 yard scoring run, but was negated by a penalty which was assessed at the two yard line. The 66 yard run is the longest for any TSU running back this season.
Freshman Chris Rowland amassed 93 yards in kickoff returns giving him 965 for the season, setting a new TSU single season record. Rowland surpassed Avion Black’s 958 yards in 1999.
Rowland came up just short of the combined return yard mark of 1,090 for 2016. Rowland will finish the regular season second in the nation with 1,076 yards in kickoff and punt returns.