Southeast's situation looks bleak after loss at Samford

Sunday, October 2, 2005

I wrote last week, after Southeast Missouri State's strong performance against Jacksonville State, that perhaps there was some hope for the rest of the Redhawks' season.

But after Thursday's 33-17 loss at Samford that dropped Southeast to 0-5 overall and 0-2 in the Ohio Valley Conference, I'm not so sure.

Not to knock Samford, which is extremely young, but the Bulldogs are expected to be one of the OVC's weaker teams and this figured to rank as one of Southeast's more winnable games.

Granted, it's never easy to win on the road. But if the Redhawks had any realistic hopes of a bounce-back season from last year's 3-8 disappointment, this was one they had to have.

Instead, the Redhawks, after holding their first halftime lead this year -- a shaky 12-6 advantage -- were soundly thrashed in the second half as their offense continued to flounder.

Sure, you can say things might have been different if quarterback Kevin Ballatore hadn't broken his foot during his first start against Jacksonville State, but even with Ballatore, Southeast had scored just three points in more than a half of play vs. the Gamecocks.

The problem in most games hasn't been moving the ball, but scoring touchdowns. Southeast has only seven offensive TDs all season, which is almost hard to believe. All too often, the Redhawks have had to settle for short field goals, and they're fortunate that Colin Schermann has been consistent to date.

Considering that Southeast coach Tim Billings said before the season that senior quarterback Mike Haley -- who has started four of the first five games -- had the tools to be the best quarterback in school history, you'd think the offense would have at least gotten something going by now.

Instead, Haley has struggled. And Thursday, he was replaced by true freshman Markus Mosley, who saw his first college action and who Billings said will start Southeast's next game, Saturday against Eastern Illinois.

Mosley showed promise, but he's a kid who was probably going to redshirt before being elevated to backup status because of Ballatore's injury, which figures to sideline the junior college transfer for at least a few more weeks. And there is no 100 percent guarantee Ballatore will return at all this season. It's certainly a lot to ask of Mosley to try and bail Southeast out of its offensive funk.

Billings said prior to the first game that this was the best overall talent he's had since taking over Southeast's program in 2000.

I'm no expert, but after watching the Redhawks in quite a few practices and scrimmages, that was hard for me to believe, especially considering that Southeast had plenty of talent when it went 8-4 in 2002 and played for the OVC title in the final game of 2003.

Let's wait and see, I thought. And, through five games -- although many areas appear athletically improved over last year, especially the defense -- it hasn't been nearly enough.

An 0-3 start prior to conference play was expected, because the Redhawks were matched up with teams that are pretty much out of their class right now.

But there's no reason not to be competitive in the mediocre OVC, and to show plenty of improvement over 2004.

Before Southeast fans totally give up on this season, though, remember that there are still six games remaining, all of them league affairs, and a team really doesn't have to be all that good to succeed in this conference.

The challenge for Billings, his staff and players is to stay as positive as possible.

After Thursday's contest in Birmingham, they'll certainly have their work cut out for them.

I sure don't blame Southeast athletic director Don Kaverman for easing up on Southeast's future nonconference football schedules.

Regardless of what state the program is in right now, it certainly hasn't been fair for the Redhawks to have to play a Division I-A team every year -- often two in the same season -- without facing at least one Division II or NAIA opponent in return.

Because of their nonconference schedule the past three years, the Redhawks have basically been doomed to a winless record entering OVC play.

Let's face facts. For various reasons, Southeast's program is light years behind both Southern Illinois and Missouri State right now, so there's really no reason to play them if you can't compete with them.

Next season, with two of the three nonconference games coming against Austin Peay -- which has been a nonscholarship Division I-AA program -- and probably Division II Southwest Baptist, the Redhawks should be able to easily snap their 10-game nonleague losing streak, and enter OVC play with a victory for the first time since 2002.

Major league baseball fans certainly can't complain about the excitement they've been given by several great division and wild card races that were still very much up for grabs entering the season's final weekend.

And for Cardinals fans, the playoffs probably can't get here soon enough because St. Louis has had little on the line -- save for personal accomplishments -- over the past several weeks.

Speaking of personal accomplishments, here's hoping Chris Carpenter wins the Cy Young and Albert Pujols takes the MVP, although those awards look almost too close to call.

Also, don't forget about Tony La Russa for National League Manager of the Year. With all the injuries the Cardinals have suffered this year, for the team to produce that kind of record, you've got to give La Russa all the props in the world.

I know Jefferson City is no longer the same type of powerhouse program that dominated Missouri high school football for years, but it was still quite a stunning victory that Jackson pulled off Friday night -- and on the Jays' home field, no less.

In what appears to be an overall down season for prep football teams in the Missourian's immediate coverage area, the Indians' 21-14 triumph ranks as arguably the major highlight to date.

Marty Mishow is a sports writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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