Southeast football eyes 3-0 start in OVC

Friday, October 1, 2010
Southeast's Mike Jones runs past Tennessee Tech's Matt Moran during the second quarter of their game Saturday at Houck Stadium. (Kristin Eberts)

The Redhawks travel to the reigning champs for Saturday's game

Southeast Missouri State expects to see an especially hungry Eastern Illinois football team Saturday.

The Redhawks plan to match the Panthers' hunger when the squads square off at 1:30 p.m. in Charleston, Ill.

"We're just going to give it all we've got," senior tailback Henry Harris said.

Southeast and EIU both are in unfamiliar territory -- the Redhawks on the positive side and the Panthers the negative.

EIU, the defending Ohio Valley Conference champion and perennial league power, is 0-4 for the first time since 1977. The Panthers are 0-2 in the OVC.

Despite EIU's struggles so far, Southeast junior quarterback Matt Scheible said, "They always have talent. Every week is pretty even in the OVC."

While EIU is reeling, Southeast is rolling. The Redhawks are 3-1 overall and a first-place 2-0 in the OVC.

Southeast has won its 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 that campaign ended 4-7.

"It feels good, but we just have to stay focused and keep taking things one game at a time," Scheible said.

EIU, which has been hit hard by injuries, has struggled offensively, although the Panthers came to life during last week's near-upset of fourth-ranked Jacksonville State.

Scheible (Matt)

The Panthers, trailing 28-9 at one point, pulled within 28-23 before having a pass intercepted at the Jacksonville State 3-yard line with 1.2 seconds remaining.

"We played hard, had opportunities," EIU coach Bob Spoo said. "But we got outplayed in the end and came up short again."

EIU is averaging just 11.8 points and a league-worst 224 yards per game, but the Panthers had a season-high 397 yards and reached a season-high point total against Jacksonville State. EIU scored a combined 24 points in its first three games.

"They gave Jacksonville State all they could handle," Samuel said. "They've got some people nicked up, but it looks like they're getting them back."

True freshman quarterback Jimmy Garappolo made his first start against Jacksonville State but left in the fourth quarter after suffering a concussion.

Sophomore Brandon Large, a junior college transfer who replaced Garappolo and led the comeback, started EIU's first three games.

Large has completed 51.6 percent of his passes (49 of 95) for 408 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions. He ranks last in the OVC in passing efficiency.

Garappolo, 8 of 19 for 106 yards against Jacksonville State in his first collegiate action, is expected to get his second start Saturday.

"They're both good quarterbacks," Samuel said. "They're similar. ... Both have some mobility."

Senior tailback Jimmy Potempa, who started his college career at Michigan, rushed for a career-high 101 yards on 13 carries against Jacksonville State. He leads EIU with 248 yards, averaging 5.4 yards per carry.

Sophomore Erik Lora is the Panthers' top receiver with 20 catches for 194 yards and one touchdown.

"They moved the ball well against Jacksonville State," Samuel said.

Spoo has been impressed with a Southeast squad leading the OVC after finishing last in 2009. The Redhawks have been strong defensively and offensively, including leading the nation by converting 57 percent of their third downs.

"They're mature, they're senior heavy," Spoo said. "They put their kids in great positions to make plays. They play to their strengths."

No matter how much EIU is struggling, the Panthers figure to be tough for Southeast to beat. EIU has won the last six meetings and Southeast has not won in Charleston since joining the OVC.

Ole Miss in 2013

It was announced Thursday that the Redhawks will play the University of Mississippi in 2013 as Southeast's annual guarantee game against a Division I-A opponent.

The Redhawks and Rebels will square off Sept. 7 in Oxford, Miss. It will be the first meeting between the programs.

"This game is a great opportunity for our student-athletes to experience SEC football and all the pageantry that surrounds the event," Southeast director of athletics John Shafer said in a release. "It is also close enough for our families and supporters to attend and cheer on the Redhawks."

Shafer served as Mississippi's director of athletics from 1998 through 2002. The Rebels are coached by Houston Nutt, brother of Southeast men's basketball coach Dickey Nutt.

Southeast's 2011 guarantee game will be at Purdue, while the 2012 contest has not yet been finalized.

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