Southeast put together dominating performance

Sunday, October 30, 2005

For the first time this year, there were all kinds of smiling faces for a Southeast Missouri State football game at Houck Stadium.

That's what the Redhawks' first win of the season will do for a bunch of players, coaches and fans.

And this wasn't just any old victory. It was one of Southeast's most dominating performances in recent history -- certainly not the kind that would normally be associated with a previously winless team.

But the Redhawks looked anything like a squad that entered Saturday's homecoming game 0-7 overall and 0-4 in Ohio Valley Conference play -- with only one of the defeats closer than 14 points.

Sure, Murray State was also struggling. The Racers entered play 1-6 overall and 0-4 in the OVC for their worst start in more than a decade.

But, after all the shots the Redhawks have taken from their fans this year, there is no way anything should detract from their 52-21 triumph that wasn't even as close as the final score indicates.

The Redhawks were well on their way to handing Murray State its worst OVC loss since 1992 before the Racers, trailing 52-7, scored two late touchdowns against mostly Southeast reserves.

How dominant were the Redhawks' in breaking a 12-game losing streak against the Racers?

Southeast piled up a season-high 505 yards of offense while scoring 20 more points than it had in any previous game this year. Defensively, the Redhawks held the Racers to just 251 yards -- and a good chunk of that came late in the contest.

Southeast hit 52 points for the first time since 2003 and scored that many for only the second time since the 1985 unit piled up 57 points against Tennessee-Martin. The 31-point margin of victory is the biggest for Southeast in OVC play since a 42-7 win over Tennessee-Martin in 1997.

Not a lot had gone right for the Redhawks in the first six games of the season, but they had by far their best overall performance last weekend -- only to see host Eastern Kentucky score a touchdown with 1.4 seconds left to stun Southeast 33-32.

Coach Tim Billings wondered aloud after that contest if the Redhawks would be able to bounce back from the devastating loss.

He got exactly the answer he was looking for Saturday, as the Redhawks showed plenty of resolve in putting behind them what had transpired previously.

With three of the lower-ranked teams in the OVC left on Southeast's schedule -- beginning at Tennessee-Martin next Saturday -- there is every opportunity for the Redhawks to close the season strong, perhaps even with a four-game winning streak.

While that certainly would not totally make up for what had taken place previously, it would sure give Southeast something solid to build on for the future.

If the Redhawks play as well as they did Saturday, they'll probably have a good chance to win out the rest of the way.

Now we'll see if they can accomplish it.

I've had plenty of Southeast football followers approach me wondering about the contract status of Billings -- in his sixth year as the Redhawks' coach -- and whether the university would consider making a change after the season.

For the record, Billings has two years left on his contract following this season, and it's hard for me to imagine Southeast -- with all its financial problems -- eating that money, regardless of whether or not university officials believe Billings remains the right man for the job.

Also, not to make excuses for Billings -- especially since he said publicly that this was his best overall talent since he took over at Southeast, and the Redhawks are just now beginning to show signs of what he was talking about -- but he certainly isn't working with the kind of resources that most, if not all, of the other OVC football programs have.

No doubt also hurting Billings is the fact he has been forced to act as his own defensive coordinator the past two years while Damon Bradford continues to serve in Iraq. That means Billings really can't be involved in as many aspects of the program as he would like, which is not the case with most head coaches.

And it wasn't long ago that Billings revived a moribund program by leading it to consecutive seasons (in 2002 and 2003) that rank among the best in recent Southeast football history, including the top record (8-4 in 2002) since 1969. He definitely deserves credit for that.

I'm sure the same Southeast fans who have been grumbling this season thought he was quite a coach just a few years ago.

Why Billings hasn't been able to keep the program moving along at that pace is open for debate.

But the bottom line is that, after going 13-11 overall and 9-5 in OVC play during 2002 and 2003, the Redhawks are 4-15 overall since 2004, including 4-9 in the OVC, with three games left this year.

It may very well be that no coach could consistently win at Southeast under the current conditions.

Anyway, I say let the remainder of the season play itself out to see where the Redhawks stand, then I'll get with Southeast athletic director Don Kaverman to let the public know what administrators are thinking regarding the state of the football program.

The football season is still in full swing, but that doesn't mean it's not also time to start thinking basketball.

Both Southeast teams will play exhibition games Friday at the Show Me Center, the men facing Missouri-St. Louis, after the women take on SIU-Edwardsville.

It might be hard to believe, but the regular season for both squads is less than three weeks away.

Curtis Muse, a 6-foot-10 center at Mineral Area College in Park Hills, Mo., visited Southeast over the weekend and attended the Redhaws' Saturday morning scrimmage at the Show Me Center.

Muse, a former standout at Vashon High School, is listed by Street & Smith's as one of the nation's top 25 junior college basketball players.

Also in attendance at Saturday's scrimmage was freshman guard Johnny Hill, another former Vashon standout who is attending Southeast but cannot participate in any basketball-related activities because he did not qualify academically for Division I competition.

But the personable Hill told me his classes are going well and he can't wait to join the Redhawks next season, when Southeast will also be bolstered by high-profile transfers Brandon Foust and Mike Rembert.

Foust and Rembert are allowed to practice with Southeast this season, but they cannot participate in games under NCAA transfer rules.

For the first time this year, KGIR-1220 will be the radio home of Southeast women's basketball, giving River Radio broadcast rights to all four of the university's marquee sports.

Stations operated by River Radio of Cape Girardeau had already been broadcasting Southeast football, men's basketball and baseball.

Also, local fans interested in following OVC sports now have an additional avenue to do just that.

KGIR-1220 recently started broadcasting the OVC's first-year radio show that highlights the accomplishments of various teams and athletes from around the league.

The five-minute program, which is produced by a Nashville entertainment company, airs on KGIR Monday through Friday at 11:55 a.m. and 4:55 p.m. daily.

People who follow Southeast football know that the Redhawks have placed three players (Willie Ponder, Eugene Amano, Dan Connolly) in the NFL over the past three years.

What they might not know, however, is that Dimitri Patterson, who played at Southeast from 2001 through 2003 before transferring, is also in football's highest league.

Patterson, an All-American cornerback at Southeast in 2003 who played his final college season at Division II Tuskegee, was recently signed to the Redskins' 53-man roster from their practice squad.

By the way, the Giants' Ponder continues to lead the NFC in kickoff returns, after leading the entire NFL last year.

Connolly, whose team plays at the Rams today, has been inactive for every Jacksonville game so far this season. It is not known whether he will suit up for today's contest.

Marty Mishow is a sports writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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