Samuel looks at miscues, not 3-1 record

Tuesday, October 3, 2006
Southeast Missouri State running back John Radney found a hole for a short gain during Saturday's 19-14 victory over Samford at Houck Stadium. Radney leads the team in scoring with four touchdowns and is the Redhawks' second-leading rusher with 235 yards on the season. (Don Frazier)

Several second-half mistakes nearly cost Southeast its first OVC victory.

At 3-1, Southeast Missouri State is off to its best four-game start since moving up to NCAA Division I-AA in 1991.

While that's all well and good, first-year coach Tony Samuel believes keeping the Redhawks grounded and properly focused will be one of his primary objectives during practice this week.

Samuel doesn't want his players getting too carried away by their first Ohio Valley Conference victory, Saturday's 19-14 triumph over visiting Samford.

"Not buying into everyone telling them how good they were is probably the most important thing," Samuel said during his weekly media briefing Monday. "People are going to be patting them on the back."

Samuel knows the Redhawks, 1-1 in OVC play, certainly won't be able to rest on their laurels Saturday when they visit defending OVC champion Eastern Illinois (2-3), which has won its only conference game so far and will carry a 10-game league winning streak into the contest.

"They're a good football team," Samuel said.

Samuel believes the Redhawks can also be a good football team, but he knows they must continue correcting the types of mistakes that plagued them during the second half against Samford.

After building a 19-0 halftime lead with a nearly flawless performance, Southeast sputtered in the second half and barely held on.

Special teams problems

A key roughing-the-punter penalty early in the final half gave the Bulldogs new life and kept their first touchdown drive alive.

A partially-blocked punt that netted just 14 yards early in the fourth quarter led to a 37-yard touchdown drive by the Bulldogs as they closed within 19-14.

Late in the game, disaster really almost hit as a blocked Southeast punt gave Samford possession on the Redhawks' 17-yard line with 3 minutes, 1 second remaining.

Southeast was able to hold Samford out of the end zone -- thanks in part to a controversial call, as a second-down pass into the end zone that appeared to be caught in bounds was ruled to have been made out of bounds -- and senior linebacker Seth Harrell finished things off with a fourth-down interception.

"We had a good first half but I thought we made too many mistakes in the second half," Samuel said. "We had too many penalties, two punts blocked. We have to know how to improve and clean up those things."

But Samuel liked the way the Redhawks were able to rise to the occasion late in the contest. In addition to Harrell's interception, freshman cornerback Todshon Jones had a key fourth-quarter pick that ended a Samford threat.

"I thought the kids fought well to finish the game," Samuel said. "Those are the kind of situations you have to rise up. I thought the kids rose up well."

Several players remarked after the game that being able to post a win like that should do wonders for the Redhawks' confidence in tight situations, especially after they suffered several down-to-the-wire losses during last year's 2-9 season.

Said a smiling Samuel: "It's good for their confidence. But it didn't have to be that way."

As for the blocked punts, Samuel said: "It's real simple. We just had guys abandon technique. It's something we'll work on, because of course Eastern will see that."

Still no turnovers

Southeast still has not committed a turnover this season as the Redhawks are the only Division I team in the nation -- I-A and I-AA -- to hold that distinction.

The Redhawks have come up with 11 turnovers from the opposition -- eight interceptions and three fumble recoveries -- as they lead the nation's I-AA squads in turnover margin.

Samuel said taking care of the ball is something Southeast emphasizes in practice. A relatively conservative offense also probably has helped prevent turnovers, although he also lauds senior quarterback Kevin Ballatore for making good decisions.

"I think you just keep hammering ... try to protect the ball," Samuel said. "Some of it is play calling. We are conservative at times."

Ballatore has not thrown an interception at Southeast after joining the program last year as a junior college transfer. He attempted 74 passes without an interception in 2005 before suffering a season-ending injury in the fourth game.

So far this year Ballatore has attempted 67 passes.

Noteworthy

* The Redhawks continue to boast two Division I-AA national leaders. Senior David Simonhoff is first in punting with a 47.14-yard average, while senior defensive end Edgar Jones ranks first in sacks per game and tackles for loss per game. He has eight and 10, respectively.

* In addition to sophomore tailback Tim Holloman missing the Samford game with an ankle injury, senior offensive guard and deep snapper Austin Russell did not play because of a concussion. Junior college transfer Richard Kazarian started at guard while freshman T.J. Smith handled the deep snapping. Holloman and Russell are both likely to see action this week.

* Southeast's last 3-1 start was in 1990, during the university's final Division II season. That team lost its fifth game.

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