Redhawks face No. 1 Salukis on Saturday

Friday, November 20, 2009

Southeast football hopes to conclude its season with a monumental upset

The Southeast Missouri State football team got a big monkey off its back by beating Murray State last week.

Now the Redhawks prepare to end their season by hosting one of the nation's true gorillas.

Southern Illinois, ranked first and second in the two major Division I-AA polls, makes the short trip from Carbondale for Saturday's 1 p.m. senior day game at Houck Stadium.

"They're a great football team," Southeast coach Tony Samuel said. "We're excited to play them."

SIU will be just the second top-ranked squad to play at Houck, the other being Tennessee State in the 1999 finale. Southeast nearly pulled off an upset before falling 35-28.

It will take another big-time performance for Southeast to make a game of it Saturday, but the Redhawks (2-8, 1-7 Ohio Valley Conference) will at least be feeling good about themselves after the 49-13 rout of Murray State that snapped their eight-game losing streak.

"I was really happy for them," Samuel said of his players. "They've gone through a lot this year, but they've hung in there. They've never given up."

The Salukis (9-1, 8-0 Missouri Valley Football Conference) have won nine straight since a season-opening 31-28 loss at Division I-A Marshall.

SIU, headed to the playoffs for the seventh straight year, has set a MVFC record by winning 14 straight conference games.

The Salukis, who returned 18 starters from last year's MVFC championship team, not only have been beating opponents, they have been pummeling them.

SIU is outscoring the opposition by an average of 34.9 to 15.2. Only two of the nine wins have come by 10 or fewer points and seven of the nine victories have come by 19 or more points.

The Salukis rank eighth nationally in rushing offense, sixth in scoring offense, eighth in scoring defense and fifth in turnover margin, in large part because of 21 interceptions.

"They're very good on offense, very fast on defense," Samuel said. "They're very good in all phases."

The Salukis are led offensively by All-American tailback candidate Deji Karim, who has rushed for 1,357 yards (7.2 average) and scored 15 touchdowns. His 273 yards against Illinois State marks the nation's top-rushing performance this year.

Karim is third nationally in rushing and third in all-purpose yardage, thanks in part to a 33.2-yard kickoff return average.

"He's a big playmaker for them," Samuel said.

SIU has not missed a beat despite losing starting quarterback Chris Dieker to a broken collarbone in the seventh game.

Redshirt freshman Paul McIntosh, a transfer from Army, is a dangerous dual-threat signal caller who is SIU's No. 2 rusher with 309 yards (6.7 average). He has completed 67.1 percent of his passes (47 of 70) for 592 yards, with five touchdowns and one interception.

While the Salukis have secured a playoff berth, the game still is meaningful for them. A win will almost certainly assure them a top-four seed for the postseason and could mean several playoff games at home.

"This is a huge game, both for us and for them," SIU coach Dale Lennon told the Southern Illinoisan. "You got 17 [Southeast] seniors playing their last game, and the No. 1 team coming to their place. What's at stake is quite a bit. We're playing for a playoff seed, and to try to make sure we keep the momentum going into the playoffs."

Samuel knows the Salukis won't be coasting into the playoffs.

"They want to win. They want to win convincingly," Samuel said. "We want to win as well."

The Redhawks would like nothing better than to interrupt SIU's charge into the postseason, especially as Southeast bids farewell to those 17 seniors, nine of whom were part of Samuel's first recruiting class.

"In a perfect world you would have liked to redshirt them, but we didn't have a choice, we had to throw them in there," said Samuel, wrapping up his fourth season at Southeast. "You hate to see them go. You hate to see all the seniors go."

Saturday's game will mark the first meeting between the teams since 2005 and is part of a three-year series between the regional rivals that has Southeast visiting SIU next season and the Salukis coming to Cape Girardeau again in 2011.

Southeast leads the all-time series 36-30-8, but the Salukis have won the past three meetings by a combined margin of 128-33, including 58-23 in 2005 at Houck.

Samuel said he's glad the squads have renewed the series.

"It's my first time to get to play against them," Samuel said. "When you're only 40, 45 miles away, I think it's a good game to play."

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