DURANT – It was a tale of two halves as Southeastern erased a 14-0 halftime deficit with 24 unanswered points in the second half to close out the 2023 season with a 24-14 victory over rival East Central in the 106th Great American Classic on Saturday afternoon at Paul Laird Field.
The win lifts the Savage Storm to 5-6 to end the season and pushes the SE lead in the all-time series to 51-49-6. It is the first win in the series for the Storm since 2018.
“You couldn’t tell me 14 points was going to win it,” said head coach Bo Atterberry. “I was proud of those guys, the way they stuck with it and grinded it out was impressive for an up and down season. A great senior class, they were maybe redshirt freshmen the last time we got it and I’m excited to see them get that.”
The win also closed out the playing career of 11 Southeastern seniors who played in their final games.
Southeastern turned in its biggest rushing total of the season, finishing with 288 yards as a team with Ryan Hirt rushing for 119 yards on 14 carries with two touchdowns to lead the way.
DJ Brown was right on his heels with 114 yards on 24 carries, while Bryce Fields added 48 yards on 11 carries.
Field, making his first start since week five would add a 13-of-30 effort passing with 167 yards and a touchdown.
His most popular target on the day was far and away Hunter Hawthorne who hauled in seven catches for 116 yards and a touchdown, while Marquis Gray was next in line with two grabs for 15 yards.
The Storm defense had its best performance against the run of the season, allowing just 16 yards rushing on the day while holding the Tigers to 269 total yards on the contest, the second lowest yards allowed total of the year.
Caleb High and Jordan Hood led the Storm defense with six tackles each, while Cameron Tate Michael Hookfin, and Jaiveon Gardner each logged five stops.
Gardner and Josh Horlick each logged a sack as SE tallied five total tackles for loss.
ECU opened the game with a trick play for a 39-yard pickup and would eventually take their first possession in for a score and a 7-0 lead.
The Tigers would hold SE to a punt on its first possession, and three plays later saw Jaiave Magalei hit Dior Scott for an 80-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead by the 6:08 mark of the first quarter.
And while the Storm offense was still slow to get started, the defense would kick it into high gear from that point on, forcing four-straight three-and-outs which would help keep the score at 14-0 at the halftime break.
The teams traded three-and-outs twice to open the second half before the SE offense finally caught traction, marching 66 yards on 11 plays and burning 4:57 off the clock with Fields finding Hawthorne for a 15-yard touchdown pass, closing the deficit to 14-7 with 4:23 to play in the third quarter.
After a seventh-consecutive three-and-out by ECU, the Storm would again march the ball, this time going 71 yards on seven plays with Hirt punching it in from eight yards out to tie the game at 14-14 with 14 seconds to play in the third.
While the Tigers would pick up their first first down since the first quarter, the Storm defense held firm and SE would get the ball back with 12:29 to play and move it 88 yards, thanks in large part to a 58-yard Hirt run, before Hirt would again score, this time from 11 yards out to take a 21-14 lead with 9:26 to play.
The defense would force yet another punt on the ensuing ECU drive and proceed top go 70 yards on 11 plays, taking 4:47 off the clock before Dylan Cox connected on a 27-yard field goal that would give SE a two-score lead at 24-14 with 3:13 to play.
The Storm defense would then step up one final time, turning the Tigers over on downs to preserve the 24-14 victory.