Even though Houston Lillard was benched for most of Saturday's game at Eastern Illinois, Southeast Missouri State's senior quarterback probably isn't in danger of losing his starting position.
Coach Tony Samuel, speaking at his weekly news conference Monday, stopped short of saying Lillard definitely would start Saturday when Southeast hosts Tennessee State for homecoming.
"We'll see how the week goes," Samuel said. "But most likely we'll go with Houston."
Lillard, who entered Saturday's game as the Ohio Valley Conference's leading passer, was pulled for true freshman Matt Scheible after throwing an interception on Southeast's second offensive series.
Scheible played most of the rest of the way, although Lillard did return for a series early in the fourth quarter and tossed another interception.
Lillard finished the 24-21 loss 3 of 5 for 10 yards. He is still second in the OVC in passing yards per game, having thrown for 1,479 yards. He has completed 57.8 percent, with 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
"I thought Houston tried to force too many things," Samuel said. "We decided to put Scheible in and give him a shot. I thought he did some good things."
Scheible completed just 6 of 16 passes for 54 yards, but he directed all three scoring drives, didn't turn the ball over and added 40 yards rushing on six carries. Several of his runs picked up key first downs.
Scheible, who was 4 of 5 for 39 yards in the first half, led an 80-yard touchdown march that tied Southeast's longest scoring drive of the season.
For the season, Scheible has completed 45.2 percent (19 of 42) for 224 yards, with one touchdown and one interception. He has rushed for 87 yards while averaging 5.4 yards per attempt.
"Like I mentioned before, I think Scheible's got a great future," Samuel said.
Despite Lillard having started all seven games this season, Scheible has seen action in five, and not only in mop-up duty.
Samuel hinted that, even if Lillard starts Saturday, Scheible could play again. The Washington, Mo., native provides more of a running threat than Lillard, which gives opposing defenses something extra to think about.
"Scheible's proven he can do it all year," Samuel said. "You've got to give him a shot.
"He's a competitor. He does present some other plays we can run with him."
The Redhawks (2-5, 0-3 OVC) figure to need all the weapons they have against OVC leader TSU (6-1, 3-0), ranked 19th nationally.
TSU is first in the OVC in both total offense and total defense, averaging 412 yards per game while allowing an average of 325 yards.
The Tigers' scoring average of 33 points ranks second in the conference.
"They're loaded with talent," Samuel said.
McKinley returns a punt
True freshman Jacob McKinley, returning a punt for just the second time this year, gained 33 yards to set up Southeast's first touchdown against EIU. The drive only had to cover 40 yards thanks to McKinley's return.
McKinley, who also had a 33-yard kickoff return Saturday, is fifth in the OVC in that department with a 24.1-yard average.
Sure-handed senior Kendall Magana has been Southeast's primary punt returner and averages 6.5 yards.
McKinley, who is averaging 22 yards on his two punt returns, saw action in that area Saturday because the Redhawks went to a two-man return system on punts.
"We all know what Jacob can do in space," Samuel said.
Asked whether McKinley will return punts more the rest of the year, Samuel said "we'll see."
Stauffer continues to shine
Nick Stauffer had big shoes to fill in his first season as a full-time starter, taking over for all-OVC middle linebacker Adam Casper, Southeast's leading tackler the past two years who led the conference in that department in 2007.
Stauffer has met the challenge. The senior is third in the OVC and 15th nationally in tackles per game. His 76 tackles are 31 more than any other Southeast player.
"Nick's having a great year," Samuel said. "He's making a lot of plays."
Patriots release Connolly
Several roster moves made by the New England Patriots on Monday included former Southeast offensive lineman Dan Connolly being released by the NFL team.
Although Connolly was on the Patriots' active roster, he had not played in any regular-season games this year.
Connolly played in four games on special teams as a rookie for the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2005 and spent the entire 2006 campaign on Jacksonville's injured reserve list before being released.
Connolly was signed to the Patriots' practice squad last year and spent the season on the practice squad.