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Ball State refuses to take Southeast lightly in football opener
Ball State is favored heavily to beat Southeast Missouri State in today's season opener for both football teams.
But don't expect the Cardinals to take the Redhawks lightly when the squads square off at 6 p.m. in Muncie, Ind.
No chance, said Ball State coach Stan Parrish, not after last year's 2-10 record that featured an 0-7 start and a week two home loss to Division I-AA New Hampshire.
That came after the Cardinals were one of the Cinderella stories of 2008, winning their first 12 games and entering the BCS discussion before finishing 12-2.
"We started focusing on this first game last year," said Parrish, the Cardinals' second-year coach who previously served as their offensive coordinator. "We want to get off to a fast start. All teams do.
"SEMO plays good football and plays in a darn good conference. We lost to New Hampshire, which plays good football and plays in a darn good conference."
Added Parrish, a former Kansas State coach who led Marshall's program when the Thundering Herd competed in Division I-AA: "I know the motivation [when playing a Division I-A opponent]. I know coach [Tony] Samuel will have them ready."
Southeast, which competes on the Division I-AA level and went 2-9 in 2009, is receiving $275,000 for its annual "money" game to generate revenue for the university's athletic department.
Don't expect the Redhawks to roll over for Ball State.
"You go into any game trying to win," said Samuel, entering his fifth season at Southeast. "On any given day you'll have your chances."
Today's contest breaks a four-year stretch during which Southeast's annual money game was against a squad from a BCS conference.
Those all proved to be monumental blowouts as the closest Southeast came was 52-3 against Missouri in 2008. The Redhawks lost to Cincinnati 70-3 last year.
Samuel said that even though Ball State, which plays in the Mid-American Conference, might not get the blue-chip recruits that flock to top BCS conference teams, the Cardinals will be plenty formidable.
"They still have 85 scholarships to our 63," said Samuel of the maximum scholarships allowed in Division I-A and Division I-AA. "You don't sell that conference short. They've produced a lot of very good teams and players."
Samuel said the thing that stands out regarding the Cardinals is speed.
"Ball State has got a fast football team," he said. "They didn't win a lot of games last year, but they played a lot of close games."
The Cardinals, picked fifth in the six-team MAC West Division, are looking for a bounceback season. They return a host of key players, including record-setting senior tailback MiQuale Lewis.
Lewis, a 5-foot-6, 201-pounder, ranks third at Ball State with 3,334 career rushing yards and needs 669 yards to become the all-time leader. He is tied for third with 30 career rushing touchdowns.
Lewis set the Cardinals' single-season rushing record with 1,736 yards to earn first-team all-MAC honors in 2008.
"He's a short, thick kid who makes great cuts," Samuel said.
Lewis was limited to 871 yards last year, including a school-record 301 against Eastern Michigan.
"He didn't have a real good year last year and I know he'll be hungry," Parrish said.
Ball State welcomes back junior quarterback Kelly Page, who suffered a broken thumb in last year's seventh game and missed the final five contests.
Page passed for 1,019 yards while completing just 52.7 percent of his attempts, with seven touchdown and nine interceptions. He also rushed for 128 yards.
"He's very active, a can-throw-on-the-run type of kid," Samuel said.
The Cardinals also return their top receiver, junior Briggs Orsbon, who caught 51 passes for 461 yards last year after nabbing 68 receptions for 813 yards in 2008.
Defensively, Ball State returns senior linebacker Davyd Jones, who led the Cardinals with 100 tackles last year, along with senior end Robert Eddins, who led Ball State with seven sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss.
"We have basically our whole team back intact, but that's no guarantee of anything," Parrish said.
* Southeast is 1-14 against Division I-A opponents, its lone win 24-14 at Middle Tennessee State in 2002.
That also was Southeast's last winning season, an 8-4 mark under former coach Tim Billings that stands as the program's best record since going 8-2 in 1969.