Redhawks seek eight straight vs. UTM

Friday, October 29, 2010
Southeast Missouri State's Steve Hendry (51) congratulates Darrick Borum after a play during Saturday's game at Houck Stadium. The Redhawks defeated Eastern Kentucky 40-21. (Laura Simon)

Southeast football hopes to extend its winning streak to its longest since 1955

Southeast Missouri State has one more Ohio Valley Conference hurdle to clear before its anticipated title showdown Nov. 13 at undefeated Jacksonville State.

Tennessee-Martin represents that hurdle in Saturday's 1 p.m. homecoming game at Houck Stadium.

Don't expect the red-hot Redhawks to be focused on anything other than UTM.

"Tennessee-Martin is the big one for us," Southeast coach Tony Samuel said. "That's the only thing I can focus on."

The accolades and plaudits have been increasing week by week for Southeast. Samuel has been pleased so far by the way the Redhawks have been able to handle all their new-found success.

"The players have worked hard to understand the focus it takes," Samuel said.

Southeast players often point out how they have concentrated all season on approaching every contest as the biggest one yet.

"We just want to keep taking it one game at a time," junior wide receiver Chantae Ahamefule said.

That approach has helped the Redhawks put together what already ranks among the program's best seasons and could turn out to be much more than that.

Southeast, 7-1 overall and a first-place 6-0 in OVC play with two conference games left, is ranked 11th nationally. That is by far the program's high-water mark since joining the Football Championship Subdivision, formerly Division I-AA, in 1991.

The Redhawks have won seven consecutive games for the program's longest streak since joining the FCS, matching the 1975 squad that also won seven straight. The last time Southeast won eight straight during a season was in 1955, when that team went 9-0.

Southeast has posted its most OVC wins in program history -- the previous high was five -- and can finish no worse than a second-place OVC tie, which would match its previous best showing.

The Redhawks also have clinched the program's first winning season since 2002 (8-4) and just the third since joining the FCS. The other was a 7-5 mark in 1994.

Additionally, Southeast -- 2-9 last season -- already is tied for fifth among the FCS's all-time most improved teams over a one-year span. The record is held by Montana State, which went from 1-10 in 1983 to 12-2 in 1984. The Redhawks have set the school record for a one-year turnaround.

A lot of Southeast fans already are talking about the Redhawks' final regular-season game at second-ranked Jacksonville State.

But you won't find the Redhawks taking the bait, which probably is a good thing because third-place UTM (4-4, 3-2) figures to be a formidable opponent. The Skyhawks have won the past five meetings against Southeast.

"They're a very good football team. They've got speed at every position," Samuel said. "They're going to be a big challenge for us."

The Skyhawks have marquee players on offense and defense, led by sophomore quarterback Derek Carr and senior linebacker Josh Bey, the OVC preseason defensive player of the year.

Carr leads the OVC with 1,844 yards passing. He has completed 58.1 percent of his attempts, with 10 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

"He throws the ball well and they have two good running backs. They have a nice balance," Samuel said.

Bey is the OVC's No. 3 tackler with 68. He ranks fifth with eight tackles for loss and 10th with 3.5 sacks.

"He's a great player. He's all over the field," Samuel said. "They're very aggressive on defense. They fly around."

UTM coach Jason Simpson said trying to slow down Southeast's dominant rushing attack poses a major challenge.

"That offense we thought was getting better and better every week last year," said Simpson, whose squad contributed to Southeast's 2-9 record last season with a 29-22 win in Martin, Tenn. "They're very, very explosive, very efficient. It's very scary.

"You have to try to give them long fields and you have to tackle well."

While Samuel said homecoming always is a worry because of potential distractions, the benefits far outweigh that.

"You always worry [about distractions]. The kids just understand you have to be more focused," Samuel said. "But it's a good thing. We've always had a good crowd for homecoming. I expect a full house."

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