Racers, Bulldogs get conference off to a winning start

Wednesday, September 1, 2004

Murray State and Samford both won against Division II schools.

By Marty Mishow ~ Southeast Missourian

Murray State and Samford got the 2004 Ohio Valley Conference football season off to a flying start Saturday as both picked up victories against Division II opponents.

But as most of the league's other nine teams prepare for their openers, things figure to get a whole lot tougher than the Racers' 56-3 pounding of Glenville State and the Bulldogs' 34-20 triumph over West Alabama.

Three of the seven games on this week's schedule feature OVC squads hitting the road to take on Division I-A opponents for a nice sum of money -- and an expected lopsided defeat.

In a Thursday night game, Tennessee-Martin plays Western Michigan. The other I-A matchups, both Saturday, feature Murray State facing Connecticut and Samford taking on Georgia Tech.

During Tuesday's weekly OVC teleconference, the three coaches who will be taking their teams into huge underdog situations preferred to look at it as a no-lose proposition.

"You really don't have anything to lose. You should have no pressure on you," Tennessee-Martin's Matt Griffin said. "The thing we want to do is play hard for 60 minutes."

Said Samford's Bill Gray, "It's an opportunity for our players to go into an environment they're excited about. We just want to go in there and be competitive. We've got no pressure other than what we put on ourselves."

Added Murray State's Joe Pannunzio, "You can look at it as a no-lose situation, and the kids look forward to going there and playing in front of a big crowd."

Southeast Missouri State University faces by far the most challenging opener among OVC teams not squaring off with a I-A program. The Indians play Thursday night at Southern Illinois, which is ranked second nationally by both major I-AA polls and is rated first by Athlon Magazine.

"On paper, I'd say they're the best I-AA football team we've played since I've been here," said Southeast coach Tim Billings, in his fifth season with the Indians.

The Indians will join some of their OVC brethren in playing I-A opponents on the road over the next two weeks as they face Bowling Green on Sept. 11 and Central Michigan on Sept. 18. Southeast is the lone OVC team to have a pair of I-A programs on its schedule this year.

Other OVC squads opening this week, in a trio of Saturday home games, are Jacksonville State (vs. Division II Emporia State), Tennessee State (Alabama A&M) and Tennessee Tech (Gardner-Webb).

Eastern Kentucky and Eastern Illinois will be the only two OVC teams to have not yet played a game following this weekend. Both squads don't kick off their seasons until Sept. 11, EKU at Appalachian State and EIU at home against Indiana State.

Racers, Bulldogs pile up yards

Murray State and Samford both had little trouble moving the football against Division II opponents in their openers, although it took the Bulldogs a lot longer to put away pesky West Alabama.

The Racers had 604 total yards -- including 373 on the ground -- and held Glenville State from West Virginia to just 191 total yards. Two Murray State running backs gained more than 100 yards as Nick Turner ran for 106 and Ron Lane went for 105.

Samford quarterback Ray Nelson and wide receiver Efrem Hill -- the OVC's most dynamic pass-and-catch duo -- looked in mid-season form. Nelson threw for 321 yards and five touchdowns while All-American Hill caught nine passes for 209 yards and three TDs.

Still, Samford - which totaled 438 yards -- led just 12-10 at halftime and 19-13 after three quarters. But the Bulldogs scored 15 straight points to seal the victory.

Former Southeast player Jeff East split time at quarterback for West Alabama against Samford. The transfer rushed for 17 yards on four carries but completed just one of six passes for eight yards, with an interception.

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