Southeast climbs back to .500 and closer to Samuel's goal

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The first-year coach wants to send his seniors out with a wining record.

After three weeks of futility -- although not unexpected, considering the competition -- the Southeast Missouri State football team revived its hopes for a rare winning season Saturday.

The Redhawks survived plenty of anxious moments against Murray State before squeezing out a 24-17 road victory.

After the Redhawks had faced, in order, Eastern Illinois, Arkansas and Eastern Kentucky, they were able to right the ship against a Murray State squad that hung tough but still suffered its 13th consecutive Ohio Valley Conference loss.

So now Tony Samuel's first season as Southeast's coach has again regained somewhat decent traction as the Redhawks improved to 4-4 -- 2-3 in OVC play -- with three games remaining.

Southeast hosts Tennessee-Martin next Saturday, following by a contest at Tennessee State and the finale at home against Tennessee Tech.

Tennessee-Martin and Tennessee State have been two of the OVC's surprise teams this year and will be difficult to beat, although playing the Skyhawks at Houck Stadium should at least afford Southeast a decent opportunity.

Tennessee Tech, while not a pushover, should certainly rate as the underdog on Southeast's turf.

Samuel has publicly stated that the big goal for the remainder of his debut campaign in Cape Girardeau is to send his relatively large group of seniors out with a winning record.

That would be something of a rare feat for the Redhawks, who have finished below .500 in all but two seasons since the program moved up to Division I-AA in 1991. Southeast went 8-4 in 2002 and 7-5 in 1994.

The Redhawks need to capture two of their final three games to give Samuel what he desires.

While that won't be easy, at least it's a realistic possibility.

Tennessee-Martin continued its remarkable turnaround Saturday by beating visiting Eastern Illinois 15-9 and snapping the defending OVC champion Panthers' 13-game conference winning streak.

The Skyhawks are 7-1 overall and 4-0 in OVC play as they posted their seventh straight victory. Prior to this year, Tennessee-Martin had not won more than six games in one season as a Division I-AA program. The Skyhawks are in the midst of their best campaign since the 1988 squad went 11-2 as a Division II program.

Last year, the Skyhawks snapped a string of 11 consecutive losing seasons by going 6-5.

But the Skyhawks went winless in OVC play from 1997 through 2002 and posted just one league victory each season in 2003 and 2004. During that stretch of futility, they were widely regarded as the laughing stock of Division I-AA football.

Nobody, however, is laughing any longer -- especially nobody around the OVC.

Southeast will have an opportunity to hand the Skyhawks -- ranked 12th nationally -- their first conference defeat next Saturday, which should in theory help boost attendance at Houck Stadium.

Southeast basketball fans won't have to wait long to see their teams in game action.

The men and women both play exhibitions this week with the men hosting Westminster College on Thursday and Kentucky Wesleyan on Friday, and the women hosting Lambuth on Friday.

And in less than two weeks, the games will begin to count for real.

Southeast's men tip off the Scott Edgar Era at Arkansas Nov. 10 and Southeast's women begin B.J. Smith's fifth season Nov. 11 at Tulsa. Both those opening opponents were in the NCAA tournament last year.

I don't know about you, but I can't wait for the seasons to begin.

One more Southeast men's basketball note:

Anybody who attended Wednesday's intrasquad game had to be impressed by the athleticism the Redhawks displayed.

It appears Southeast has sufficient talent and depth to contend for an upper-division OVC finish.

It also appears that the Redhawks have the kind of players who should be able to fare well in Edgar's "Fast and Furious" system that places a premium on transition offense and pressure defense.

Now it will be interesting to see just how long it takes the Redhawks to adapt to their new style in actual games.

That was an impressive upset victory the Central High School football team pulled off Thursday by beating Class 4 District 1 favorite West Plains in a 34-31 thriller at Houck Stadium.

West Plains had ruled the district the past two years after previously playing in a district closer to home, and most people thought the Zizzers' dominance would continue.

But Central had other ideas, and by virtue of Poplar Bluff beating Sikeston has already wrapped up the district title regardless of how the Tigers fare in this week's regular-season finale at Sikeston, although they figure to have little trouble winning that one anyway.

You've got to give Central credit. After losing their first three games, it looked like the Tigers might be headed to a third consecutive tough season. But they evidently kept improving and have been rewarded with a berth in the playoffs.

While Central is the only area football team that has locked up a postseason berth, St. Vincent has an opportunity to join the Tigers.

The Indians, after a rare absence from the playoffs last year, host Hayti on Thursday night in a winner-take-all battle to decide Class 1 District 2. Both squads have won their first two district games.

I was talking to local good guy George Foster the other day and he told me with great disappointment that the new youth football program for underprivileged kids that he coaches has fallen short of its fundraising goal of $20,000 needed to purchase equipment and material in order to make the operation go.

Foster, whose day job is with the facilities management department at Southeast Missouri State, has long been involved with coaching and promoting area youth sports.

The new youth football program is under the direction of the Southeast Youth Sports organization that provides participation in various sports for kids from families with economic hardships. Most of those youngsters would otherwise not have those opportunities.

Foster said he would welcome any type of monetary donations from the public, either by individuals or businesses.

Anybody wishing to contribute or gather more information should call Foster at (573) 275-5223, or contact the Southeast Youth Sports office at (573) 837-0111.

What an amazing, storybook postseason for the Cardinals, who probably surprised just about everybody outside of St. Louis -- and maybe even most of those folks -- by winning the World Series.

After their mediocre 83-win regular season and the way they limped into the playoffs after nearly blowing a huge division lead, most people figured the Cardinals would lose to the Padres in the NLDS.

That didn't happen, but the Mets were expected to make short work of the Cardinals in the NLCS.

Again St. Louis pulled off the upset, this time in seven games, but the Tigers were supposed to breeze past the Cardinals -- with some so-called experts even predicting a sweep.

Instead, it was St. Louis that almost swept, beating Detroit in five games.

There were so many improbable heroes for the Cardinals, it's hard to pick out just one. But how about reclamation project Jeff Weaver pitching the game of his life in Friday night's clincher?

Or maybe gritty shortstop David Eckstein, who overcame injuries and an 0-for-11 start in the World Series to win the MVP award.

Talk about a true underdog story. The 5-foot-7 Eckstein has been told all his life that he's too small to succeed in sports -- yet he keeps proving everybody wrong.

Catcher Yadier Molina also is a pretty good story. Maligned by fans all season because of his weak bat, Molina led the Cardinals in postseason hits and was probably their MVP for the entire playoffs.

And manager Tony La Russa's World Series reputation -- which had taken some serious hits over the years -- certainly received a major shot in the arm.

All in all -- simply amazing!

It was a shame to see former Southeast All-American Willie Ponder released Thursday by the Seahawks after he had been their primary kickoff return man all season.

I don't think Ponder will have any trouble catching on with another team, but hopefully he won't be one of those players who bounces from squad to squad every couple of years.

Ponder spent his first three NFL seasons with the Giants.

Marty Mishow is a sports writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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