Latest win ranks among Southeast's biggest

Monday, November 1, 2010

This might surprise some people, but I'll make the argument that Southeast Missouri State's latest football victory ranks among the biggest wins in program history.

What, you say, beating a nondescript albeit solid team like Tennessee-Martin 24-17 on Saturday rates that type of status?

It does when, in all probability, it clinched the first playoff berth in program history.

No matter what happens during their Nov. 13 Ohio Valley Conference title showdown at Jacksonville State, it would now be a stunner if the Redhawks don't receive at least an at-large FCS postseason bid as long as they don't stumble against Division II Southwest Baptist on Saturday.

In front of a record homecoming crowd announced at 11,126, the 11th-ranked Redhawks held off UT-Martin to post their eighth straight triumph for the program's longest winning streak during a season since the 1955 squad went 9-0. Their eight wins are also the program's most since 1955.

The Redhawks -- 8-1 overall and a first-place 7-0 in OVC play -- finish a three-game homestand against Southwest Baptist before ending the regular season in Jacksonville, Ala.

Jacksonville State (8-0, 5-0), which has three OVC games remaining, is ranked second nationally. A win over the Gamecocks will give the Redhawks the program's first OVC championship and the league's automatic playoff berth.

I know the Redhawks don't want to leave anything to chance. They desperately want to capture the program's first OVC crown, which is why they should be especially focused on knocking off the mighty Gamecocks.

Based on what I've seen from the Redhawks all year, I wouldn't bet against that happening even though they'll be underdogs in a hostile environment.

But even if the Redhawks fall short at Jacksonville State, they should have quite a consolation prize awaiting them -- a first trip to the playoffs.

You can bet the Redhawks likely won't overlook Southwest Baptist -- which is 7-2, has won seven straight and features one of the best offenses in Division II -- even though most Southeast fans will expect an easy victory.

Granted, the Redhawks weren't nearly as good then as they are now, but the last time they faced the squad from Bolivar, Mo., they nearly lost.

The most recent meeting came in the 2008 season opener. Southwest Baptist led 28-12 in the fourth quarter before Southeast forced overtime and won 35-28.

Southwest Baptist's quarterback from that contest is still around -- he also played against Southeast as a freshman in 2007, when the Redhawks won 38-17 -- and he might be the best signal caller the Redhawks face all year.

Senior All-American Steven Gachette, who has thrown for more than 12,000 career yards and 92 touchdowns, is having a monster season with 2,899 yards passing and 22 touchdowns along with 735 yards rushing and 15 TDs.

The Bearcats are averaging 45.2 points and 553.3 yards per game. They will be a challenge for Southeast's stout defense, although the Redhawks should be able to score plenty of points against a Southwest Baptist defense that appears suspect.

With the Redhawks knowing how much is on the line -- an upset could cost them a playoff berth -- I don't anticipate a similar scenario as the last time the teams squared off, although I don't expect the Bearcats to be pushovers, either.

I hated to see that former Southeast All-American Edgar Jones was released by the Baltimore Ravens last week.

Jones had been a reserve linebacker/defensive end in his fourth season with the Ravens after originally making the team as an undrafted free agent. Hopefully he'll get picked up by another NFL squad.

Southeast still has three former players on NFL rosters.

The most established among that group is Eugene Amano, solidly entrenched as a starter on the Tennessee Titans' offensive line. Amano is in his seventh season after being drafted in the seventh and final round.

Amano, a Southeast All-American, started 31 games the past two seasons at left guard before being moved to center this year, a position he also has played for the Titans. He has appeared in all but one game during his NFL career.

New England offensive lineman Dan Connolly, in his sixth NFL season, never had started a game on that level until he made four starts last year. Connolly is the Patriots' starter at left guard.

Dimitri Patterson, another former Southeast All-American, is a reserve cornerback with the Philadelphia Eagles. He has played for several teams since joining the NFL in 2005.

Connolly and Patterson originally made the NFL as undrafted free agents, just like Jones.

The Central High School football team added another accomplishment to its remarkable turnaround season by earning a Class 4 playoff berth.

Central, which has gone from 0-10 in 2009 to 9-1 this year, visits De Soto in Wednesday's regional round.

While De Soto won a district title and Central didn't, the Tigers figure to be favored, and I'll be surprised if they lose.

Which would mean that, barring a huge upset by Potosi at Sikeston, the Tigers and Bulldogs will have a rematch of the recent Southeast Missouri game of the year that resulted in Sikeston's 21-0 rout that wasn't nearly as close as the score.

If Central and Sikeston do meet again, it will be interesting to see if the Tigers can do anything to reverse what happened in the previous matchup.

Major congratulations to longtime Plaza Tire Capahas manager Jess Bolen for his latest and well-deserved honor of being selected for induction into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame.

Marty Mishow is a sports writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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