Redhawks now can get back to OVC work

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Southeast Missouri State got its anticipated Division I-A shellacking out of the way Saturday.

Now the Redhawks can focus on the final five games of Tony Samuel's debut season as coach -- all will be against Ohio Valley Conference opponents -- and try to cobble together enough victories for the program's first winning record since 2002, and just its third as a Division I-AA program.

First, for what happened Saturday in Fayetteville, Ark.

No big surprises. The 17th-ranked Razorbacks had what basically amounted to a day off against the overmatched Redhawks, building a 42-0 halftime lead and romping 63-7 in front of announced crowd of 72,453, although probably several thousand fans less than that were actually in attendance.

For the Redhawks serving as proverbial sacrificial lambs -- I'm not knocking what transpired, because just about every Division I-AA team has to go through it -- the university receives the tidy sum of $300,000 that will help out the entire athletic department.

I've got to admit, the game turned out just a bit more lopsided than I expected. Figuring Arkansas would play plenty of people and possibly have a letdown after last week's upset at then-No. 2 Auburn, I thought something along the lines of 49-7 or 56-14 might be in order.

The Razorbacks did play plenty of people -- Arkansas started shuffling in reserves by the second quarter -- but when your second- and third-stringers are more talented than the opposition's starters, it's hard to keep things from getting out of hand.

And it didn't lend itself to keeping the score down that Samuel -- absolutely doing the smart thing -- rested most of his top defensive players in the second half as freshmen littered the field.

So now the Redhawks, 3-3 overall and 1-2 in Ohio Valley Conference play, can take aim on their last five games, beginning with Saturday's homecoming date with Eastern Kentucky.

The Colonels, the OVC preseason favorites, will be tough to beat. But considering Eastern Kentucky has been by far been the league's most disappointing team and the Redhawks will be at Houck Stadium, an upset is not out of the question.

After playing the Colonels, the Redhawks visit Murray State, play host to Tennessee-Martin, visit Tennessee State and then host Tennessee Tech. Several wins appear possible among that group.

I predicted before the season that the Redhawks would finish 5-6 overall and 3-5 in the OVC, but I figured 6-5 and 4-4 were also within reach.

Considering that Southeast has had just two winning records since moving to Division I-AA in 1991 -- 7-5 in 1994 and 8-4 in 2002 -- and only two of the program's other I-AA teams posted as many as five victories, either 5-6 or 6-5 would represent significant progress.

We'll see how the rest of the season plays out, but one thing is for sure: No opponent left on the schedule figures to be as daunting as what the Redhawks faced Saturday.

Of course, no other Southeast foe is giving the university $300,000 either.

I know Southeast lost big Saturday, and getting pounded in an athletic competition is never enjoyable, but it must have been a thrill for the Redhawks to take the field in such a huge, impressive venue against a team so highly ranked.

The players I talked to after the game said that was definitely the case.

While the atmosphere at 72,000-seat Razorback Stadium no doubt wasn't as electric as it is for most SEC games, it was still quite good and the crowd still made plenty of noise.

On a personal level, I got a real thrill before the contest when I spent some time visiting with Quinn Grovey, a former standout Arkansas quarterback who works for the Razorbacks' radio network.

Back in 1983 and 1984, I had the privilege of covering Grovey during his freshman and sophomore years of high school in Duncan, Okla., where I worked at the Duncan Banner newspaper.

Grovey was without a doubt the best high school athlete I ever covered on a regular basis, and I got to know him and his family quite well.

I moved on to the Southeast Missourian following his sophomore football season, after he led Duncan High to a state title, but I continued to follow his career. Grovey played at Arkansas from 1987 to 1990 and ranks on numerous top-10 lists for the program, including third in career total offense.

To this day, people who follow college football say that Grovey was among the top dual-threat quarterbacks of the past 25 or 30 years.

Some interesting things came out of the OVC's annual basketball media day Wednesday in Nashville, Tenn.

First, Samford was picked to win both the men's and women's titles, a distinction neither of those programs had garnered since the school joined the conference four years ago.

Second, both Southeast squads were slated for fifth place in the 11-team league.

You can tell by talking to first-year Southeast men's coach Scott Edgar that he thinks the Redhawks can contend for the title, but he's doing the wise thing with fairly reserved public comments.

As for Southeast women's coach B.J. Smith, you can tell by talking to him that there's no way he believes the Redhawks will slip all the way to the middle of the pack, after winning OVC regular-season and tournament titles last year.

In fact, I get the impression Smith truly thinks the Redhawks can repeat, despite losing six key seniors from last season and returning very little proven Division I talent. Smith has already touted junior college transfer Missy Whitney, a former Charleston High School standout, as the likely OVC newcomer of the year and says she compares favorably in skills to Tatiana Conceicao, Southeast's star the past two seasons.

If Whitney can come close to matching Conceicao's production, then Smith's club could prove the prognosticators wrong.

Marty Mishow is a sports writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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