Southeast defense stands tall in loss to Division I-A Kent State

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Entering Southeast Missouri State's second football game of the season Saturday, it was hard to tell just how the Redhawks might stack up against Kent State.

Sure, the Golden Flashes are a Division I-A team and on paper should be able to handle Division I-AA Southeast with relative ease.

But it's not like Kent State is a Division I-A powerhouse, a fact the Golden Flashes displayed in their opener last weekend as they allowed nearly 700 yards of offense during a 49-14 loss at Michigan State.

So, at first glance, KSU's 33-12 victory over Southeast might have appeared as if things went fairly according to form.

But in actuality, it was anything but a routine Division I-A triumph against an overmatched Division I-AA foe.

On this day at least, the Redhawks were anything but outclassed, particularly their defense, which took plenty of shots last year as it ranked as statistically one of the nation's worst.

Southeast's defense had been gouged for 545 yards during a 58-23 season-opening loss to Southern Illinois on Sept. 1.

But Saturday, Southeast's "D" took on the look of the vastly improved unit that coach Tim Billings expects this season. The Redhawks turned in one of their best defensive performances in years by holding KSU's explosive offense to the almost mind-boggling low total of 195 yards.

However, Southeast's own struggling offense (the Redhawks had just 295 yards, much of that coming late, and missed out on numerous golden scoring chances), an astonishing 16 penalties for 154 yards and more punt-team problems prevented any chance the visitors might have had of an upset.

You can't really call it a moral victory, but at least physically the Redhawks matched up well with a team that should have considerably more talent, so that at least has to be encouraging to Southeast fans.

But what does it all mean? Nothing, really, except that the toughest part of their brutal nonconference schedule seems to be behind the Redhawks as SIU and Kent State figure to be the best teams Southeast plays.

It also means that, although Southeast will again be the underdog this Saturday at Missouri State, the Redhawks just might have a legitimate chance at closing out their nonleague slate with a win, which would be a major boost heading into their Ohio Valley Conference opener Sept. 24 at home against two-time defending champion Jacksonville State.

While Southeast has struggled so far this season, the Redhawks haven't struggled in placing players into the National Football League.

Dan Connolly became the third Southeast product in three years to make an NFL roster when the offensive guard survived the Jacksonville Jaguars' final cuts last weekend.

Connolly joins wide receiver Willie Ponder and center Eugene Amano in playing at football's highest level.

Ponder enters his third season with the New York Giants after leading the NFL in kickoff return average last year.

Amano is going into his second season with the Tennessee Titans after starting two games and playing in 13 others as a rookie last year.

What's neat about those three players making it to the NFL is that none were considered can't-miss prospects coming out of college. Ponder was a sixth-round draft pick in 2003, Amano was taken in the seventh round in 2004, and Connolly wasn't even drafted this year, instead signing with Jacksonville as a free agent.

Southeast is now tied with Eastern Kentucky for OVC schools having the most former players currently in the NFL. And no OVC squad has placed as many players in the NFL over the past three years as Southeast.

It's something Southeast football can take great pride in. The Redhawks might have taken a major step back last year, and the jury is still out on this season and the future, but there is no question coach Tim Billings and his staff have upgraded the talent level in the program since they took over six years ago.

For the entire decade of the 1990s, Southeast had three players see NFL action (linebacker Tony Walker, who completed his eligibility in 1989; cornerback Marquis Walker, 1995; and defensive tackle Angel Rubio, 1997).

While that's nothing to sneeze at, it certainly doesn't match Southeast's current trifecta of three NFL players in three years.

I think it's great that Southeast will play Arkansas in football next season.

If the Redhawks are basically going to be forced to schedule an automatic loss against a Division I-A opponent each year in order to give the athletic department a financial boost, they might as well get as much money as possible for it. The $300,000 that Arkansas will pay Southeast sure sounds a lot better than the $115,000 doled out by Kent State.

Congratulations to Rick Wieser, a former Southeast football standout who will be inducted into the Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College Hall of Fame next month.

Wieser, who quarterbacked Southeast to an MIAA title in 1975, was a junior college All-American at Fort Scott before transferring to Southeast.

Current area football fans probably are more familiar with Wieser through his role as the color analyst during home games on Southeast radio broadcasts, which he has done the past several years.

But no matter how you know him -- and I've known him for a while -- Rick is a really good guy who people tell me was a heck of a fine all-around athlete, although I was not yet working at the Missourian during his playing days.

Marty Mishow is a sports writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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