Redhawks football continues freefall in OVC play

Monday, October 29, 2007

I'm not sure about the exact wording, but there is an old sports adage that basically says you have to hit the bottom before you can reach the top.

The Southeast Missouri State football program certainly hopes that contains some truth because it's hard to imagine the Redhawks sinking much lower than they did Saturday.

Playing on the road against a Tennessee-Martin program that only a few years ago was the laughing stock of Division I-AA and had this season won just one game, Southeast was involved in a couple of less-than-flattering milestones.

Not only did the Redhawks suffer their fifth straight loss, but UT-Martin's 55-20 romp tied for the most points Southeast has allowed in an Ohio Valley Conference game since joining the league in 1991.

And on the other end, UT-Martin posted its highest point total since 1995, and its highest-ever point total in OVC play since the Skyhawks joined the league in 1992.

Since dropping a competitive game to defending OVC co-champion Eastern Illinois on Sept. 29, Southeast has lost its last three games by a combined 76 points while leading only once -- and that was for just a few minutes early in a 27-point loss at OVC leader Eastern Kentucky.

Now sitting at 2-6 overall and a last-place 0-5 in the 10-team OVC, Southeast is assured of its 15th losing record in 17 Division I-AA seasons.

Nobody said it was going to be easy for coach Tony Samuel to build up a Southeast program that appears to have so much going against it, including no real tradition to speak of, along with limitations regarding facilities and finances. But this job might be even harder than Samuel envisioned when he took over in Cape Girardeau following the 2005 season.

The Redhawks went 4-7 overall and 2-6 in the OVC last year using a majority of players -- including 26 seniors -- left over from the previous regime.

So it was almost like Samuel and his staff were starting over this year as they brought in about 30 new players, including a good number of junior college transfers.

The growing pains have been obvious for a squad with only a handful of key seniors.

Southeast has struggled most of the year, with its only wins being less-than-stellar home victories over Indiana State and Southwest Baptist, who are both 0-9.

Indiana State, which the Redhawks beat 13-10, has been outscored 433-102 this year.

Division II Southwest Baptist, which the Redhawks finally pulled away from 38-17 after the contest was tied at halftime, has been outscored 365-182.

Probably the Redhawks lone impressive performance of the season came against Eastern Illinois. The Panthers had to work hard before pulling away late to win 31-16.

Since then, the Redhawks have basically been mauled.

So, enough with the bad news.

What people really want to know is where does the program appear headed, and is there any hope on the horizon.

I really like Samuel and his assistants, and I have no doubt they are by and large good football men.

Samuel continues to insist that solid progress is being made, even if it's hard for the public to see during games.

I'm no expert on what it takes to build up a struggling football program, and I have no idea if Samuel and his staff have what it takes to get the job done.

In fact -- and I've said this many times before -- I'm not even sure anybody short of a miracle-worker will be able to revive the Southeast program, given the before-mentioned things it has going against it.

But I continue to remind fans -- and myself -- that we should reserve judgment on the kind of job Samuel is doing until he and his staff have been in place for three or four years.

In the meantime, the Redhawks will try to salvage something from this season -- which has three games left, including two league contests -- as they try to avoid the program's first-ever winless OVC campaign.

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

The Southeast men and women both play exhibition contests this week, with the men hosting Lincoln Thursday and Missouri-Rolla Saturday, and the women hosting Auburn-Montgomery Thursday.

Then, in less than two weeks, the games will begin to count on the records.

Southeast's men tip off Scott Edgar's second season Nov. 10 at Xavier, while Southeast's women tip off John Ishee's second season Nov. 10 at home against Tulsa.

Edgar's squad will face a particularly tough opener. Xavier is the preseason Atlantic 10 Conference favorite after reaching the second round of last year's NCAA tournament, where the Musketeers nearly beat eventual runner-up Ohio State.

Big-time congratulations to the Southeast women's soccer team for winning the OVC regular-season title.

The Redhawks captured their third OVC regular-season crown, and first since 2002, with Sunday's thrilling 1-0, double-overtime win over four-time defending champion Samford.

Coach Heather Nelson has built an amazing program -- she started it from scratch in 1999 -- and now the Redhawks will get to host the OVC tournament semifinals and finals Nov. 9 and 11.

Also kudos to the Central girls cross country team, which put on a dazzling performance Saturday in winning the sectional meet for the first time in school history.

Marty Mishow is a sports writer for the Southeast Missourian

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