Up-and-down EKU, Indians await an OVC breakthrough

Saturday, October 18, 2003

Can lightning strike in Richmond, Ky., for the second straight season? Southeast Missouri State University's Indians hope so.

Last year, the Indians beat Eastern Kentucky for the first time, pulling off a 35-21 shocker at Roy Kidd Stadium. That's where Southeast will be today for a key Ohio Valley Conference game.

"I'm sure it's something we can draw on," Southeast coach Tim Billings said. "But I'm sure it's something they'll bring up, too.

"We're going into a lot different situation this year."

The Indians were 6-4 when they ventured to Richmond a year ago, pulled off the upset and capped their winningest season in more than 30 years with an 8-4 record.

But this year, the preseason OVC favorite Indians are struggling with a 1-5 overall record and a 1-1 conference mark. They won their last game 30-17 over visiting Eastern Illinois two weeks ago.

EKU also has had ups and downs, but the Colonels (3-4, 2-1) are riding high with two straight wins, including last Saturday's 41-0 romp at Eastern Illinois.

"It was a huge win for our program," EKU coach Danny Hope said.

According to Billings, EKU has possibly the best defense in the OVC.

"Defensively, they run to the ball and create a lot of turnovers, and that's the thing that scares you," Billings said. "They put so much pressure on you, they just come after you. They really have a lot of speed on defense."

Offensively, the Colonels also have weapons in quarterback Matt Guice, running backs Terry Ennis and C.J. Hudson, and wide receivers Andre Ralston and Allen Evans.

Guice has passed for 1,084 yards and is a threat to run. Ralston and Evans rank among the OVC's top receivers with 34 and 32 catches, respectively, and Ralston averages 17.2 yards per reception.

Ennis has rushed for 489 yards and averages 5.3 yards per carry. Hudson has 306 yards with a 4.1-yard average.

"Guice is a good player, but he hasn't been healthy a lot of the season," Hope said. "When healthy, he's been an excellent player. He's a guy who can make big plays."

EKU also features two of the most dangerous return men in the OVC. Evans has returned two punts for touchdowns while Tremayne Perkins has scored on a kickoff return.

As for Southeast, the Indians' defense has allowed an average of just 320 yards per game to rank third in the OVC. And the Tribe's offense, after struggling early, has averaged 387.5 yards and 30.5 points in the last two games.

"They haven't been as consistent as they would like offensively, but they seem to have gotten it going the last few weeks," Hope said. "My biggest concern is they come in red-hot throwing the football. They spread the field, and they are very, very capable offensively."

Both teams played rugged non-conference schedules. EKU lost to Division I-A Bowling Green and Central Michigan, along with defending Division I-AA national champion Western Kentucky. Southeast fell to Division I-A Ohio and Arkansas State, along with undefeated Southern Illinois.

"I think their record is really deceiving," Hope said. "They had a really tough schedule, like us."

Hope wasn't around for last year's landmark win by Southeast over EKU since he's in his first season as the replacement to Roy Kidd. But he doesn't doubt that his players remember the upset well.

"I think any time you're playing against somebody that defeated you the year before there is always some incentive," Hope said.

Billings figures a win for the Indians is vital as they try to stay in prime position in the scrambled OVC standings. But he knows a victory won't come easy.

"It's a big challenge for us," Billings said. "We'll have to play really well to beat those guys."

mmishow@semissourian.com

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