Southeast shows signs of being better than expected

Sunday, October 1, 2006

It had been hard for me to get a good read on this Southeast Missouri State football team through three games.

The Redhawks had beaten two teams I expected them to beat -- Austin Peay and Missouri-Rolla -- and lost as I expected to Jacksonville State.

But Saturday night, in a game I rated a tossup, the Redhawks demonstrated that they just might be in store for better things than most people expected during coach Tony Samuel's debut season.

The Redhawks rode a stellar overall first half and a gritty second-half defensive performance to hold off Samford 19-14 in front of one of the louder crowds I've heard for a Southeast game in some time.

It was announced that 9,650 fans were in attendance. That estimate might have been a little high, but those people certainly made plenty of noise, especially during the Redhawks' late defensive stand that sealed the victory.

So now the Redhawks stand 3-1 overall and 1-1 in Ohio Valley Conference play. They've already surpassed their victory total from all of last season after beating a Samford team that was considered something of a darkhorse OVC contender entering the campaign.

Maybe Southeast -- picked dead last in the league's preseason poll -- can assume that tag now.

That remains to be seen, but the Redhawks figure to be riding high entering Saturday's game at defending OVC champion Eastern Illinois.

The first official game of the Scott Edgar era won't be played until Nov. 10, when the Southeast men's basketball team visits Arkansas.

But the Redhawks are already getting quite a bit of respect from some of the national magazines that have hit the news racks.

Athlon picked the Redhawks to finish second in the Ohio Valley Conference, while Lindy's selected them fourth and tabbed Oklahoma transfer Brandon Foust as the league's newcomer of the year.

According to Athlon, Edgar believes he has more talent on this Southeast team than he ever had at Murray State. I don't know if Edgar was misquoted or not, but I remember some of those outstanding Racers squads that Edgar coached in the early 1990s, and I'll have to reserve judgment on that one.

Both publications predict Samford -- despite graduating conference player of the year J. Robert Merritt -- to win the championship. Besides Merritt, the Bulldogs return all of their other key players from last year.

The official OVC preseason poll will come out Oct. 11, when the league holds its annual media day in Nashville, Tenn.

I don't know about you, but -- although I really like football -- I can't wait for the college basketball season to get here because, as most of my loyal readers know, college hoops is my true passion.

I was happy last week when Southeast recently announced the 2006 class for its Athletic Hall of Fame -- and I saw Charlie Brune's name on the list.

Brune has been a major part of Southeast athletics for more than 60 years. He played football in 1940 and 1941, was one of the original founders of the booster club in 1955, served as booster club president from 1976 to 1982 and has been a staunch supporter of all the programs ever since.

Not only that, but Brune is the patriarch of what could basically be termed the first family of Southeast football. Sons Greg and Lance, along with grandsons Brent, Brian, and Bobby, all followed Charlie in playing football at Southeast.

Joining Brune as individual inductees will be the late Royal Tibi, who played five sports at the university from 1919 to 1923; track star John Schwepker (1984 to 1988); and women's basketball standout Gray C Harris (1992 to 1996).

Also going into the Hall of Fame will be the 1976 baseball team that finished third in the NCAA Division II World Series and was coached by the late, legendary Joe Uhls.

The inductions will take place during an afternoon ceremony Nov. 4 at the Show Me Center. The inductees also will be introduced at the football game that evening when Southeast hosts Tennessee-Martin.

Tickets for the ceremony are available to the public at $25 each and can be purchased at the Southeast athletic ticket office, 651-2113.

Southeast officials had expected to hear back from the NCAA by now regarding violations within the women's basketball program.

But things from the NCAA's end apparently will take longer than expected and Southeast might not learn anything for another month or two.

Stay tuned.

Former Southeast head football coach Tim Billings, who left the program following the 2005 season after six years in Cape Girardeau, has certainly landed on his feet well.

Billings is in his first season as the wide receivers coach at Wake Forest -- and the Demon Deacons are 5-0 to match their best start since 1987.

The Wake Forest schedule has been somewhat soft so far and it will now heat up considerably, but the Deacons appear to have a legitimate shot at qualifying for a bowl game.

Former Southeast All-American Willie Ponder ranks second in the NFC in kickoff returns with a 26.6-yard average through three games with the Seattle Seahawks.

Ponder, in his fourth NFL season, was signed by the Seahawks after the New York Giants released him prior to the campaign. He led the entire NFL in kickoff returns in 2004.

Although they were favored by 16 points, that was still a nice win for the Missouri Tigers on Saturday as they opened Big 12 Conference play by beating visiting Colorado 28-13.

The Buffaloes are winless, but they represented a step up in competition from the four opponents on MU's soft nonconference schedule.

So now the Tigers are 5-0 for the first time since 1981 as they jump into the meat of their schedule, beginning with a game at Texas Tech.

Meanwhile, Illinois was impressive Saturday in pulling off one of the biggest upsets of the college football season so far, winning at Michigan State 23-20.

The Illini hadn't appeared all that much improved in the second season of Ron Zook's rebuilding project and they entered the contest as 26-point underdogs.

Now we'll see if that game was simply an aberration or if Illinois has started turning the corner at least somewhat.

Marty Mishow is a sports writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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