Tennessee Tech stands in the way of title battle

Thursday, November 13, 2003

We'll face our biggest game of the year Saturday afternoon in Cookeville, Tenn., when we play Tennessee Tech.

Saturday's 52-35 win over Tennessee State kept us in the race for the Ohio Valley Conference title and an NCAA Division I-AA playoff berth, but it won't mean much if we don't beat Tennessee Tech.

This is the second week of our playoffs -- the second hole after Amen Corner -- and we have to win to keep our playoff hopes alive.

It is a tribute to our coaches and players that we are still in the playoff hunt after starting the season 0-5. We had high expectations this season but started 0-5. Many teams would have just folded.

Our players didn't fold. They worked hard, continued to improve and finally got a couple of victories. Then we had the heartbreaking loss to Murray State and I really thought that might be the final blow.

Our team has constantly had to overcome obstacles and injuries. We have lost a lot of good football players to injuries.

This week we will be without yet another wide receiver with Chris NesSmith out with a knee injury suffered in the Tennessee State game. He has been a solid receiver for us all season and returns punts and is our holder on extra points and field goals. His loss will hurt us in a lot of ways.

Quarterback Andrew Goodenough was also injured in the Tennessee State game, but I'm hopeful he will be able to play on Saturday. If he can't go, we have Jack Tomco, who did a great job at the end of last week's game. He has won a lot of games for us at quarterback.

Our football team has shown great character by bouncing back from the tough start, but this week maturity will be the key. We need to win our last two games to win the title and go to the playoffs.

If we win Saturday and Jacksonville State wins, we will have a championship game at Houck Stadium a week from Saturday. That is the game everyone is talking about, but it won't be a championship game if we lose at Tech.

Our team has to be mature enough to realize they have to play well to have a chance to win at Tech. The Eagles have a lot of good football players but haven't played well during their current five-game losing streak. That's scary to me because I know they have good athletes.

Playing as the favorite is something relatively new to Southeast football. We have to do a better job of beating the teams we should beat.

The game at Tech is the biggest game of the year. It is sort of like buying a new house or car. The purchase makes you excited, but if the loan isn't approved it doesn't happen.

We would love to face Jacksonville State for the OVC title and a playoff spot, but this week we have to get the loan approved by beating Tech.

I hope some of you will be able to make the trip to Cookeville on Saturday. It's not that long of a drive, and we can use your help.

Tim Billings is the football coach at Southeast Missouri State University.

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