Redhawks football stays on track for big year

Monday, September 27, 2010

Southeast Missouri State is ahead of schedule as the Redhawks attempt to end their string of football futility.

I wrote several weeks ago that, based on what looked like a rugged opening stretch, I would consider a 2-3 record through five weeks to be acceptable.

And I said if the Redhawks go 3-2, then look out, the season might turn out to be something.

Southeast fans may be in for a treat because Saturday's 23-21 win over Tennessee Tech in the Redhawks' home opener puts them 3-1 heading into this week's game at defending Ohio Valley Conference champion Eastern Illinois.

Regardless of what happens Saturday in Charleston, Ill., the Redhawks appear on track to post the program's first winning season since 2002 and just the third since Southeast moved up to Division I-AA in 1991.

Southeast, in fact, is looking strong enough right now that it's not out of the question to think it might be able to challenge for the program's first OVC title, although that is getting way ahead of things.

The bottom line, however, is that the Redhawks are performing well on both sides of the ball. And there has been nothing lucky about their three wins as they have outplayed the opposition, including during their massive upset at Southern Illinois on Sept. 18.

The Redhawks are atop the OVC standings at 2-0 as they have won their first two OVC games for just the second time since joining the league in 1991. The other time was in 2002, when Southeast went 8-4 for its best record since 1969. Southeast never has been 3-0 in the OVC.

Southeast also has posted three straight victories for the first time since 2003 and is 3-1 for the first time since fifth-year coach Tony Samuel's inaugural season in 2006, although -- and I probably shouldn't bring this up -- that campaign ended 4-7.

Something tells me things won't turn out that way this time.

Perennial OVC power Eastern Illinois will not be an easy team to beat Saturday when the Redhawks play their fourth road game in five weeks.

The Panthers have been a thorn in Southeast's side, winning the last six meetings. The Redhawks have not won at Eastern Illinois since joining the OVC.

But the Panthers appear vulnerable as they are 0-4 for the first time since 1977.

EIU, however, is coming off a strong showing Saturday as it nearly rallied to upset fourth-ranked Jacksonville State. The Gamecocks held on 28-23, dropping the Panthers to 0-2 in the OVC.

The Panthers no doubt will be extra hungry for their first victory, but I don't think they'll be any hungrier than a Southeast squad shooting for a breakthrough season.

The attendance for Saturday's Family Weekend matchup with Tennessee Tech was announced at 8,732.

I don't know how that figure was derived, but I'd be surprised if there weren't at least 10,000 people at Houck Stadium.

Houck supposedly seats 10,000, and the stands appeared packed to me. It also looked like there were a few hundred people sitting in the booster area behind one of the end zones.

Regardless, it was a great atmosphere and I commend Southeast fans for really being into the game. They were loud most of the way, and several of the players I interviewed afterward said they appreciated the support.

I don't know if Southeast sent SIU into a tailspin with the recent upset in Carbondale, Ill., but the Salukis are reeling.

Saturday's 31-28 loss at Youngstown State dropped SIU to 1-3. The Salukis have suffered three straight defeats for the first time since 2002.

Marty Mishow is a sports writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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