For the second time in five years, the Urbana University football team had an NCAA Division I (FCS) opponent on the ropes. Unfortunately for Urbana, the upset bid was blocked at the horn at Southeast Missouri State University on Saturday afternoon. The Blue Knights lined up for a game-winning 50-yard field goal with just seconds remaining, but the attempt was blocked by the Redhawks, who escaped with a 37-35 win in front of their home crowd at Houck Stadium.
At times on Saturday, it appeared as though tiny Urbana, with an enrollment 1/7th the size of their D-I opponents’, was from the superior division. The Blue Knights led 21-7 late in the second quarter, and memories of Urbana’s 2009 upset of D-I (FCS) Dayton began replaying in Blue Knight fans’ heads. Head Coach Dave Taynor and six current Blue Knights remain on the roster from that signature win five seasons ago.
The Redhawks closed the gap with a pair of touchdowns before the first half horn, setting the stage for a back-and-forth affair in a tight second half. Five times the teams traded leads, and it appeared as though whoever possessed the ball last would reign victorious.
Trailing 35-31 with a minute to play, the home team faced a 3rd and 10 from Urbana’s 45-yard line. Redhawk QB Kyle Snyder completed a pass to Peter Lloyd, who needed a measurement to get the first down by about one inch. Two plays and an Urbana penalty later, Snyder found a diving Paul McRoberts in the back corner of the end zone for the go-ahead 23-yard TD with 37 ticks left on the clock.
After a missed extra point, Urbana only needed to get into field goal range to kick the game-winner. Sophomore kicker Blaine Hafner entered Saturday’s contest a perfect 2 for 2 on the season with a long of 44 yards in a Week 6 Homecoming win over Concord. On a 4th and 5 play with 13 seconds left on the clock, Urbana QB D.J. Mendenhall found receiver Alvin Busbee on a 31-yard pick up to get the Blue Knights in range for Hafner. However, Hafner’s kick didn’t have the height to get over Austin Black’s outstretched hand, snapping the Blue Knights’ 5-game winning streak.
The Redhawks remained undefeated against D-II opponents, improving to 8-0 all-time. Urbana slips to 6-3 on the year, and 1-7 all-time against the higher division.
Offensively, junior running back David Hill carried the load for Urbana in his return to home state. The St. Louis native rushed for 146 yards and 3 TDs on 25 carrries. He also caught a pass for 10 more yards. Mendenhall threw for 260 yards and a TD on 23 of 38 passing. He also had a 7-yard TD run for the first score of the game. Senior wide receiver Joe Webb stepped up to the D-I challenge, finishing with a game-high 10 catches for 110 yards and a score. Busbee added 3 catches for 66 yards, and Joe Saffold tallied 6 catches for 44 yards.
The Blue Knight defense surrendered more than 13 points and over 235 total yards for the first time since Week 3. Senior linebacker Lamar Ross led the way with 15 tackles, including a sack and two tackles for a loss. Ross also recovered a fumble and picked off a Snyder offering on the Redhawks’ opening drive of the second half. Daniel Goodrum added 10 stops. Terrell Hudson had 9 tackles, and David McComas chipped in 8 tackles, including 1.5 for a loss.
The Blue Knights return to conference action next Saturday at West Virginia Wesleyan College. Urbana enters the final two weeks of the regular season ranked second in the MEC at 6-1 and ninth in Super Region 1. The top six teams in the region advance to the NCAA Division II Playoffs. Week 10 kicks off at WVWC at 1:00 p.m.