DII football: Southern Arkansas back in GAC contention after dominating upset of No. 25 Southeastern Oklahoma State
MAGNOLIA, Ark. – Behind a balanced and efficient offensive attack, the Southern Arkansas Mulerider Football team treated the Wilkins Stadium Homecoming crowd to an impressive 49-19 win over No. 25 Southeastern Oklahoma State and in the process moved into a four-way tie atop the Great American Conference standings.
The Mulerider offense finished with 572 yards in 77 total plays at 7.4 yards per play. SAU went over 250 yards rushing for the second time this season, while its 306 yards passing marks the third game this season with 300 or more yards through the air. It is the second contest this season in which the SAU offense produced 550 or more total yards of offense.
Southern Arkansas rose to the challenge on Saturday afternoon and set the tone early as the Muleriders scored touchdowns on their first four possessions of the contest, while limiting SOSU to just 53 yards of total offense in its first five possessions.
Southeastern Oklahoma answered with the remaining nine points of the first half as the Muleriders took a commanding 28-9 lead into the intermission.
The Muleriders would add a touchdown in the third quarter, while holding the Savage Storm to a field goal before the final 15 minutes of play.
In the fourth quarter, SOSU scored less than three minutes in, to pull within two possessions, but it was all Southern Arkansas down the stretch as SAU scored two more touchdowns to distance themselves for the pivotal league win.
The win is the second-straight over a Top-25 opponent and the first such win at home under current head coach Bill Keopple. The Muleriders defeated #15 Henderson State 50-24 last season at the Murphy USA Classic in El Dorado.
The 30-point margin of victory for Southern Arkansas is the second-largest in the series with Southeastern Oklahoma State that has totaled 42 meetings. The largest margin of victory in the series came in 1982 when SAU defeated the Savage Storm 36-3 in Magnolia.
The win marks the tenth-straight for the Muleriders in Homecoming contests.
ON THE GROUND
Highlighting the ground attack was senior running back Michael Nunnery who carried 24 times for 114 yards and three touchdowns. The touches, yards and touchdowns are all single-game highs for the Muleriders and Nunnery this season. The 100-plus yards is the fourth such game for Nunnery this season and is also a season-high yardage total.
Supplementing Nunnery's performance was Keiandre Purifoy who carried 11 times for 76 yards and added an impressive first quarter touchdown run. The 26 yard score saw the sophomore bully his way down the home sideline for the game's first points.
Barrett Renner added a rush for 35 yards and SirCharles Perkins carried seven times for 35 yards as well.
Southern Arkansas rushed for 11 first downs and averaged 5.8 yards per carry. The Muleriders' four rushing touchdowns are a season-high on the ground.
THROUGH THE AIR
Once again, Renner positioned himself atop the list of another impressive career record as he broke the career touchdown passes mark with a 50-yard strike to Karonce Higgins in the fourth quarter. Renner currently has 84 touchdowns passing after throwing for three scores on Saturday afternoon.
Renner finished 20-of-31 passing for 306 yards and the aforementioned three scores.
The redshirt junior found Garrett Turnbull twice in the win on scoring tosses of 52 and 11 yards and hooked up with seven additional receivers including Higgins who finished with six catches for 89 yards.
Darrion Ardoin and Jared Lancaster combined to catch seven passes for 94 yards.
The 52-yard touchdown pass to Turnbull is the longest of the season for Renner and a career-long reception for the former, while Renner's 9.9 yards per pass is also season-high.
The Rowlett, Texas, native also became the program's leader in touchdown's responsible for which now stands at 86. With his 306 yards through the air, Renner is just 131 yards away from becoming the program's career-leader in passing yards.
Southeastern Oklahoma State became the third Mulerider opponent to be held under 55 yards rushing. The Savage Storm were limited to 284 yards of total offense. It was the fourth time this campaign that the SAU defense held an opponent under 300 yards of total offense.
The frantic activity of the Mulerider front seven resulted in nine quarterback hurries and three tackles for loss, while the secondary registered a strong performance as well as SAU picked off a pair of passes including a first quarter interception by Jimmie Houston and a late fourth quarter interception by Kobe McDonald. The interceptions were both firsts for the respective players in their career and each pick led to Mulerider touchdowns on the ensuing offensive possessions.
La'Montrick Turner led the defensive effort with seven total tackles, while Elgin Moore, Darren Crawford and Anthony Washington each added five stops.
Kaseem Smith knocked away a team-leading three passes, while Travis Williams led the front end of the attack with a trio of quarterback hurries.
Southern Arkansas forced SOSU to kick a pair of field goals, while also stopping a PAT attempt.
In all, the Muleriders held SOSU to just 42 yards rushing, 5.0 yards per completed pass and allowed just two successful third down tries in 15 Savage Storm attempts on Saturday.
The Muleriders prepare for their 79th meeting with Henderson State (4-4, 4-4 GAC) next Saturday in Arkadelphia. Kickoff from Carpenter-Haygood Stadium is scheduled for 2 p.m. The matchup is part of the 2017 NCAA Division II Football Showcase and will be streamed live on ESPN 3.