An OVC skid will end today

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Southeast and Murray State both look for their first conference win.

Southeast Missouri State has been frustrated by its failure to win an Ohio Valley Conference game so far this season.

That pales in comparison to the frustrations of Murray State.

The Racers have not tasted an OVC victory since 2004, a span of 18 straight league losses.

But the frustrations will end for one of those teams -- at least for a week -- when they square off today at Houck Stadium in Southeast's homecoming contest.

"It will be an interesting game," Southeast coach Tony Samuel said.

Samuel said he sees plenty of similarities in the Redhawks (2-4, 0-3) and Racers (1-5, 0-3) as he and Matt Griffin try to revive struggling programs.

Murray State has had plenty of success over the years, but not in the past few seasons. Since 2005, the Racers are 4-24, including 0-18 in OVC play.

Southeast has never enjoyed consistent success since moving up to Division I-AA in 1991, compiling just two winning records in 16 seasons.

Since 2004, the Redhawks are 11-28, including 7-20 in OVC play.

Samuel and Griffin are both in their second seasons at their respective schools. Griffin previously turned around a Tennessee-Martin program that had ranked among the nation's worst for a decade.

"Matt and myself are probably doing the same thing from a philosophical standpoint, trying to build a program," Samuel said. "We're both making progress."

While that progress might not be indicated by the squads' records, Griffin agreed with Samuel that it is there.

"Absolutely, there are a lot of similarities [in what he and Samuel are doing]," Griffin said. "It will take some time. You don't want to let the kids know that. ... You just have to stay patient."

While both teams lack many seniors, Southeast has several junior college transfers sprinkled in its lineup.

Griffin, on the other hand, is trying to build the Racers exactly like he built Tennessee-Martin -- by primarily using players right out of high school.

Of Murray State's 22 projected starters for today's game, 15 are either freshmen or sophomores.

"They're using the same formula they did at Tennessee-Martin," Samuel said. "Play freshmen, let them take their lumps, then they develop into a good team."

The Racers lost their first two conference games decisively -- to Tennessee Tech 48-24 and Jacksonville State 40-24 -- but hung tough last week with two-time defending OVC champion Eastern Illinois.

Although the Racers never led Eastern Illinois, they kept things close before falling 27-24.

Samuel said the Racers have their share of talented players, including quarterback Jeff Ehrhardt.

A redshirt freshman from St. Louis, Ehrhardt ranks second in the OVC in passing yards per game and second in total offense. He has completed 116-of-199 (58.3 percent) for 1,249 yards, with nine touchdowns and three interceptions.

"He's making progress, getting better every day," Griffin said.

Junior wide receiver Rod Harper leads the OVC in receptions per game, having nabbed 38 passes for an average of 13.7 yards per catch.

Although the Racers rank next-to-last in the OVC in rushing offense, sophomore tailback Charlie Jordan is coming off a 100-yard game against Eastern Illinois.

"We played against a lot of those kids last year," said Samuel, whose 2006 squad won at Murray State 24-17. "The difference is they're stronger."

With the Redhawks and Racers tied for last place in the 10-team OVC, today's loser will have sole possession of the basement.

But Samuel shook his head when asked if each squad will be desperate for a win.

"I don't see desperate," he said. "I see two teams building."

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