CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. – Indiana State gave its fans an intense feeling of déjà vu at Houck Stadium on Saturday night, as the Sycamores once again prevailed in an absurd final quarter of play to defeat Southeast Missouri, 27-24.
The 2015 edition saw three different two-point conversion tries and a last second touchdown as time expired in its final two minutes, and the final five minutes of the 2016 edition gave its predecessor a run for its money in terms of excitement.
“It was a great team win,” said ISU head coach Mike Sanford. “Our guys found a way to win on the road, and it’s not easy to win on the road. I’ve got to give (SEMO) a lot of credit, they played well. They’re a good team, and they’re going to be very competitive in the Ohio Valley.”
Down 24-13 with only 5:19 left to play, the Sycamores (2-1) seemed likely to lose to the Redhawks (0-3) for the first time since the 2007 season. But Indiana State never quit, and put together two superb drives that the Sycamore offense isn’t sure to forget anytime soon.
With 5:19 to play, the Sycamores drove 68 yards on seven plays as the ISU offense once again found its rhythm that propelled it to a 75-yard passing touchdown to RB Dimitri Taylor on the first play of the game. QB Isaac Harker (22-of-36, 302 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT) found RB Jaquan Keys (nine rushes, 53 yards; 2 receptions, 24 yards) for a big first down to start the drive, followed by a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against SEMO, a 19-yard pass to WR Robert Tonyan Jr. (seven receptions, 90 yards, 1 TD) to get into the redzone and a five-yard TD strike to cut the deficit to 24-19 after a failed two-point conversion.
The Sycamore defense followed that up with a clutch three-and-out, capped by a big pass breakup by Rondell Green on 3rd-and-12 to get the Sycamores the ball back with 1:33 left to play.
“All game our coaches were telling us to put the game on us,” Green said. “We just came out and played hard and we did what we had to do to get off the field.”
What followed was a drive to even rival the one Isaac Harker led in the 2015 season finale against Youngstown State.
Harker was 5-of-9 for 52 yards and converted a fourth down and a third down as the seconds ticked off, capped by a beautiful 15-yard lob to WR Miles Thompson on a short fade route into the endzone – a play that Thompson says was improvised at the line by Harker.
“(What happened) actually wasn’t the play at all,” Thompson said. “When we broke from the huddle, Harker yelled my name and looked at me and said, ‘Run a fade, get open.’ I had one thing on my mind: beating the press. When we came off, he threw his outside arm, I knocked it down, I looked up and the ball was coming. Just pitch and catch after that.”
Harker once again leaves the game as the hero for the Sycamores, putting up yet another 300 yard game and leading yet another game-winning drive for Indiana State.
Indiana State finishes the non-conference season at 2-1 and will enter the grueling Missouri Valley Football Conference season on a high note. The Sycamores play host to No. 5 Illinois State next Sat., Sept. 24.