OVC opener

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Southeast Missouri State and Samford have similar resumes three games into the season.

* Each was hammered by a strong Division I-A program -- Southeast 59-3 at Cincinnati and Samford 69-14 at Georgia Tech.

* Each had its troubles with a Division II team at home, Southeast trailing in the third quarter before beating Southwest Baptist 38-17 and Samford edging West Alabama 23-21.

* Each knocked off a nondescript Division I-AA squad at home, Southeast defeating Indiana State 13-10 and Samford beating first-year I-AA member Presbyterian 34-24.

But the resumes of the Redhawks and Bulldogs will gain a bit of separation tonight, when the teams kick off their Ohio Valley Conference schedules in Birmingham, Ala.

"I'm so looking forward to starting the conference," Southeast junior safety Kendall Magana said. "I think everybody on the team is."

Said Southeast coach Tony Samuel: "This is what we gear ourselves for. The first conference game ... Samford is going to have the same energy. They're going to be up like we are."

Samuel, in his second season at Southeast, and first-year Samford coach Pat Sullivan are both trying to revive programs that have struggled in recent years.

Samford's last winning season was in 2003, while Southeast's last winning campaign came in 2002.

From 2004 through 2006, the Bulldogs were a combined 12-21 and the Redhawks 9-24.

Southeast went 4-7 in Samuel's first season last year -- the program's best record since 2003 -- including a 2-6 OVC mark.

Sullivan inherited a Samford squad that was 3-8 a year ago, including 1-7 in conference play.

Both teams have rosters filled with first-year players.

"They're a work in progress like we are," Samuel said.

But each coach believes the other has some building blocks to work with, including talented tailbacks.

Southeast junior Tim Holloman is the OVC's third-leading rusher with 352 yards. He is averaging 6.1 yards per carry.

"Holloman is a very good player," Sullivan said.

Samford redshirt freshman Chris Evans is fifth in the conference with 270 yards, and he is averaging 6.3 yards per attempt.

"They've got two or three kids that run the ball well," said Samuel, noting that Alex Barnett has added 186 yards for the Bulldogs.

Although both squads are off to solid starts -- Southeast is shooting for its first three-game winning streak since 2003 -- not much is expected from either this year, at least from people outside the programs.

In a preseason poll voted on by the OVC's coaches and sports information directors, Southeast was picked to finish eighth in the 10-team league, while Samford was tabbed for ninth.

Whether either club winds up being a surprise conference contender remains to be seen.

But in order for that to happen, both coaches acknowledged that opening with a victory would be plenty important.

"I think everybody looks forward to their first conference game no matter where they're picked," Sullivan said. "You don't want to get behind the 8 ball. You want to get off to a fast start."

Said Samuel: "Every conference game is big, no question about it. You all want to get started right in conference play. It's a big game for both of us."

Magana went a step further as Southeast tries to capture its OVC opener for the first time since 2004.

"It's a must win," he said. "We have to win. We have to start this conference season off right."

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: