DURANT, Okla. “ Southeastern's Devlon Wortham piled up 220 yards and three touchdowns on 13 carries while leading the Savage Storm to a 56-50 victory over Southern Arkansas in the season opener on Thursday night at Paul Laird Field.
SE moves to 1-0 overall and 1-0 in Great American Conference play, while SAU opens 0-1 in both.
The teams combined for 106 points in the contest, finishing one point behind the regular-season GAC record for combined points held by Henderson State and Arkansas Tech a season ago.
Wortham's 220 yards marked the first time since Baylen Laury posted 222 yards against East Central in 2010 that the Storm produced a 200-yard rusher.
It also paced the Storm offense to 522 yards with his rushing night, while Nick Sioson completed 26-of-45 for 271 yards and two TD's.
Anthony Foster hauled in a team-best eight receptions for 113 yards and one TD, while Anthony Gale added a score on four catches and 55 yards.
Eric Walker paced the defense with 10 tackles on the night, but it was Chad Tucker who stole the show with six tackles, an interception he returned 25 yards for a score and the game saving pass breakup on a fourth-down SAU pass into the end zone that would have tied the game with 1:27 to play.
The Storm fell behind early with SAU's Austin Shoemake connecting on a 48 yard field goal to cap the Muleriders' opening drive, and they finished the first quarter when Zikerious Ware hauled in a 38-yard TD pass from Tyler Sykora to take a 10-0 lead.
SE would answer early in the second quarter when Wortham took the ball straight up the middle for 35 yards to put the Storm on the board, trailing 10-7.
Southeastern's defense would hold the Muleriders to a three-and-out on the ensuing drive before marching the next possession 72 yards on 10 plays, capped by a Ladarius Abrams 17 yard run that gave SE a 14-10 lead with 10:07 to play in the half. Abrams finished the night with 32 yards on 11 carries with two scores.
On the second play of the following SAU drive, Donnie Hamilton snagged his first career interception to regain possession for the Storm.
SE picked up just one first down on that drive before stalling out at the visitor's 45 yard line and punting the ball back to the Muleriders.
However on the next SAU drive Tucker would snag his first interception and this time make them pay, returning it 25 yards for a score and a 21-10 SE lead.
Southern Arkansas would answer two plays into the following drive when Sykora hit Chris Terry for a 69-yard touchdown pass, however a missed PAT would leave the Storm a 21-16 advantage. Terry would go on to finish the game with a GAC record 247 yards of receiving, breaking the record of 225 yards that was set by SE's Ryan Shelley against ECU in 2011.
Southeastern would follow with a three-and-out, but SAU could not capitalize, missing a 39 yard field goal attempt.
The Storm would answer that by driving 78 yards on eight plays, including three-straight completions to Anthony Foster, going for 23, 18 and 13 yards, respectively, before Abrams scored form seven yards out for his second TD of the quarter, giving SE a 28-16 advantage with 50 seconds to play in the half.
However, SAU's Sykora would find Terry open for a 63 yard TD toss with eight seconds remaining in the half, cutting the Storm lead at the break to 28-23.
Neither team could get anything going on their first drives of the second half, but the Storm wasted little time on its second drive.
Wortham would take the first play of the second drive 65 yards before being caught at the visitor's 16 yard line. That would set up a Sioson to Foster 16 yard TS pass that put the Storm in front 35-23.
Neither team could muster much offense for the remainder of the third quarter, however, and the Storm would take a 35-23 advantage into the fourth.
On the first play of the quarter for the Storm, who began on their own two yard line fumbled the ball into their own end zone where it was covered up by SAU's Tate Mustin for a touchdown to cut the Storm advantage to 35-30.
The turnover woes continued for Sioson on the next drive when Quan Warren picked off a pass at the SE 33 yard line, and three plays later the Muleriders took advantage with Mark Johnson scoring from 21 yards out for his first TD of the day, giving SAU a 36-35 lead after the two-point conversion failed. Johnson racked up 139 yards on 23 carries with two TDs on the night.
The SE offense stalled out on its next drive and Jared Heim connected on a 42-yard punt that was mishandled by Victor Rogers and recovered by Russell Hurst at the visitor's 21 yardline.
This time the Storm would take advantage, with Sioson first connecting with Foster for 10 yards and a first down, followed by an 11 yard touchdown toss to Gale that put SE in front 42-36.
SE forced the Muleriders into third-and-long on the ensuing drive and Raheem Wilson took advantage of the passing situation by picking off a Sykora pass at the SE 31 yard line with 10:12 to play in the game. It was the third interception of the night and the fourth forced turnover.
The Storm then drove down the field, aided by a third-down conversion thanks to SAU's Warren drawing a personal fouls and getting ejected after making a helmet-to-helmet hit on SE's Tyler Sweatt who would leave the game after the hit.
Three plays later Wortham would punch in his second score, this one from one yard out to put SE up 49-36 with 7:53 to play.
SAU, however would answer by marching 65 yards in 12 plays over 3:41 to score on a Johnson two-yard run, trimming Southeastern's lead to 49-43 with 4:22 to play.
SE would go three-and-out on its next possession and after Heim's shortest punt of the night, SAU would take over at Southeastern's 49 yardline.
The Muleriders would drive to the SE 13 yard line and find themselves with a fourth-and-10 situation when Sykora lofted a ball towards Terry in the corner of the end zone, but Tucker would knock it away at the last second to preserve the lead and regain the possession for the Storm.
And SE wasted little time in capitalizing as Wortham would break the first play loose for an 87 yard touchdown run, which is the fifth longest run in SE history, and spotted the Storm a 56-43 lead with 1:34 to play.
The Muleriders, however, were not quite finished as they took the ensuing drive 68 yards over four plays, culminating on a Sykora 14 yard pass to Terry for a TD that cut the score to 56-50.
SAU would try an onside kick on the kickoff, but Gale, taking advantage of a rule instituted a year ago, signaled for a fair catch on the popped up onside try and was leveled by the oncoming Southern Arkansas kick team, earning a kick catch interference penalty and negating the Mulerider recovery.
After an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against the SAU coach was tacked on, a pair of Sioson kneel downs would secure the season-opening win for the Storm for the third-straight year.