Column: SEMO football lost a battle, but it is winning the war

Southeast Missouri State football coach Tom Matukewicz raises his hat to the crowd at Houck Stadium Saturday after his team lost 24-6 in the opening round of the FCS Playoffs to Illinois State. Tyler Graef ~

The indications that Southeast Missouri State football was in peril against Illinois State in the opening round of the 2019 FCS Playoffs Saturday at Houck Stadium began to smolder prior to the game when fifth-year senior quarterback Daniel Santacaterina was held out – at least initially – due to multiple injuries.

“That isn’t why we lost the game,” sixth-year Redhawk coach Tom Matukewicz said following his team’s 24-6 defeat to the visiting Redbirds.

He’s correct in that assessment.

However, make no mistake, losing the quarterback, who had played very well over the past month, didn’t help.

Why the No. 12-ranked Redhawks (9-4) lost to the No. 13-ranked Redbirds (9-4) was put on full display on Illinois State’s opening drive.

Six times the Redbirds took a snap and six times the Illinois State coaches called for senior runner James Robinson to carry the ball.

And six times the play worked.

“They had a really good running back,” Southeast All-America linebacker Zach Hall said afterward.

Robinson averaged 109 yards per game, which ranked in the top 10 in the country at the FCS level.

He had 144 by the end of the first quarter and 297 when the game ended.

“We couldn’t stop the run,” Matukewicz said, “and we couldn’t run the ball.”

There. That was the ball game in short order. You don’t need me to re-hash it.

To harp on how Southeast didn’t execute on either side of the ball is doing a disservice to the Redhawk program and the 17 seniors that just spent years building something out of almost nothing.

If what someone takes out of Saturday was a game loss, then they are missing the bigger picture.

Southeast football is a success, regardless of Saturday.

When Tom Matukewicz took over in Cape Girardeau in December of 2013, the Redhawks had won nine games in three seasons.

They now have matched that in each of the past two, which is a first for any Southeast team at the NCAA Division I level.

“I have this gratitude to them,” Matukewicz said of the guys walking out of his locker room for the final time. “They came when we didn’t have any of this stuff. We didn’t have the kind of excitement that we have now.”

It would have been great for the Southeast fans and this community for Matukewicz and his guys to walk off the turf at Houck in a joyous mood. But THIS Saturday doesn’t diminish LAST Saturday when the program celebrated a share of the Ohio Valley Conference championship by singing and dancing as they held up the championship plaque at midfield.

“The culture,” Hall said succinctly on what he was proud of as he reflected on what may be the greatest defensive career in program history. “Forget the OVC championship. Forget everything else. The culture that ‘Coach Tuke’ wanted and we implemented from the start.

“It’s going to be a good program for the future.”

It’s a “good program” now.

Southeast is now a program that can get a guy drafted into the NFL.

Southeast is now a program that strings together winning seasons.

Southeast is now a program that makes the postseason.

Southeast is now a program capable of winning a championship and has done so twice in the past decade.

“We will finish in the top 25,” Matukewicz said, “and a lot of people take pride in that. You can go into homes and recruit on that. The future is bright.”

Tom Davis is the regional sports editor for Rust Communications. He oversees the daily content for and the Southeast Missourian.

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