Brick by brick
The 2018 season added more bricks to the foundation of the Southeast football program as the team reached heights the team had never seen before.
After back-to-back 3-8 seasons, the Redhawks finished the regular season at 9-4 overall and 6-2 in OVC play and entered the playoffs ranked 20th in the nation. It was SEMO’s fourth winning season since joining Division I in 1991, and every winning season has come every eighth year: 1994, 2002, 2010 and 2018.
With a 48-23 loss to Weber State, the Southeast Missouri State Redhawks season ended, but the program secured not only its best record in eight years, but it also won its first game in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs in school history.
On Nov. 24, the Redhawks played their second ever playoff game, and hosted for the first time. No. 20 Southeast bested the No. 15 Stony Brook Seawolves 28-14 and advanced to face No. 2 Weber State on Dec. 1. The playoff berth was SEMO’s first since 2010 when the Redhawks lost to eventual national champion Eastern Washington 37-17.
A lot of the Redhawks’ success this season was attributed to its defense,which led the nation with 23 interceptions and 36 turnovers gained.
The offense, on the other hand, did not turn the ball over much, ranking first nationally in fewest fumbles lost (1) and fourth in turnovers lost (12). With only 12 turnovers, the team boasted a plus-24 turnover margin, which also leads the nation.
Southeast lost just one fumble the entire season, and nine of its 12 turnovers on the year came in two games — losses to Eastern Kentucky and Weber State — meaning the Redhawks were a plus-31 in their other 11 games.
“Turnover margin, that’s a team stat,” Southeast coach Tom Matukewicz said. “That is an overall team stat that every coach strives to get. There is not a coach in America that doesn’t value the turnover margin. So to do it at the number one level in all of FCS football is astounding, and I’m so proud of the team for that.”
Leading the charge for the Redhawks defense was junior inside linebacker Zach Hall. During the 2018 season, Hall had team-leading totals of 168 tackles and four interceptions. He also forced four fumbles, recovered two fumbles and blocked a pair of kicks as well, earning him the Ohio Valley Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year. Hall’s 168 tackles established a new SEMO single-season record, besting Blake Peiffer’s 151 in 2011.
Southeast had a dominant rushing game, coming primarily in the form of the OVC’s Offensive Player of the Year, running back Marquis Terry. The senior rushed for 1,229 yards and 14 scores in 2018, leading the OVC in both categories. Terry topped 100 yards in six contests, including an OVC record 311 yards rushing against Southern Illinois University-Carbondale in a 48-44 thriller.
Terry, paired with First Team All-OVC quarterback Daniel Santacaterina, led an offense that ranked 12th in the nation in scoring at 37.1 points per game. Santacaterina’s 28 touchdown passes and 2,844 yards passing ranked are second and third, respectively, in the OVC. His touchdown passes were the most by a Southeast quarterback since Jack Tomco threw 29 in 2002.
One of the biggest victories during the regular season for the Redhawks was the 37-14 victory over then-ranked No. 4 Jacksonville State. The Gamecocks held a 36-game conference winning streak—the longest in the nation by a wide margin. Southeast’s defense was too much for JSU to handle, as the Redhawks came up with three interceptions and blocked a kick in that game.
That win shook the OVC, but JSU went on to win the conference and receive the OVC’s automatic qualifier bid into the playoffs.
Of the Redhawks’ three regular season losses, one came against a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent (Arkansas State), one came after the team had a season-high five turnovers (Eastern Kentucky) and one came down to the final seconds, when Murray State came from down 31-7 at halftime to upset the Redhawks 40-38.
“We needed Eastern Kentucky to happen,” Matukewicz said. “We realized, you can’t turn it over or we’re not going to win. And that’s exactly what happened. Since that game, we’ve been amazing at taking care of the football.”
After the stunning loss to Murray State, Southeast returned to Houck Field the following week to close the regular season against Eastern Illinois and came away with a 38-32 win over the Panthers that ultimately got them into the FCS playoffs with an at-large bid.
The Redhawks then drew on some of their Houck Field magic in the first round of the playoffs, scoring all of their points in the third quarter of the 28-14 comeback victory over Stony Brook, giving the team its first FCS postseason win and maintaining a perfect 6-0 record at home in 2018.
“Only God himself could orchestrate a season like this,” Matukewicz said. “Two weeks ago was one of the worst losses in program history, losing the [OVC] championship in the last 10 seconds. And then, just two weeks later, one of the best wins in program history.”