Southeast clinches playoff berth

Sunday, November 21, 2010 ~ Updated 9:23 AM
The Southeast Missouri State football team clinched its first playoff berth with Jacksonville State's loss Saturday. (Fred Lynch)

The Southeast Missouri State football team didn't play Saturday, its regular season already over.

But the Redhawks still came away winners on the final date of the Football Championship Subdivision's (formerly Division I-AA) regular campaign.

Jacksonville State's 35-24 upset loss at Tennessee Tech gave the Redhawks the Ohio Valley Conference's outright championship and the league's automatic FCS playoff berth.

Southeast never previously had finished higher than second in the OVC since joining the league and moving up to the FCS level in 1991. The playoff berth marks the first for the program at any level in its 104-year football history.

"That was the goal," Southeast coach Tony Samuel said of winning the OVC title. "We got the thing, not the way we wanted it, but we'll take it."

Southeast, which has put together one of the best seasons in program history and one of the biggest one-year turnarounds in college football history, was expected to receive an at-large playoff berth anyway. The Redhawks already had clinched at least a share of the OVC crown.

Jacksonville State's loss means the Redhawks (9-2, 7-1 OVC) won't have to sweat even a little bit when the 20-team FCS playoff field and pairings are announced today.

The Gamecocks (9-2, 6-2) would have earned the OVC's automatic playoff berth if they had finished tied with Southeast based on their 29-27 home win over the Redhawks on Nov. 13.

Jacksonville State led Tennessee Tech 24-7 entering the fourth quarter only to see the Eagles score the game's final 28 points.

The game was televised on the Wazzoo Sports Network and shown in Cape Girardeau. Samuel said he was watching the contest only to turn away after Jacksonville State seemed to be in control.

"I quit watching the game. I don't even remember what the score was," Samuel said. "Then I started getting text messages. I figured I better watch it again."

Samuel said he's pretty sure most, if not all, of his players also watched the game.

"I had a fair amount text me, so I know they watched it," he said.

The Redhawks, ranked 10th nationally, have tied the school record for wins, matching the 1937 and 1955 squads that went 9-0.

Southeast had a nine-game winning streak snapped with the loss at Jacksonville State.

This year marked Southeast's first winning record since 2002 and just its third on the FCS level.

After going 2-9 in Samuel's fourth season last year, Southeast is tied for third among the FCS's all-time most improved teams over a one-year span. The Redhawks already have the greatest one-year turnaround in school history.

Fourth-ranked Jacksonville State still is expected to receive an at-large playoff berth.

The playoffs, which have been expanded from 16 teams this year, start with four first-round games Saturday.

Twelve teams will receive first-round byes and won't play until Dec. 4.

Southeast and Jacksonville State both are expected to receive a first-round bye, but it is not certain if they will host a game.

The OVC hasn't had two squads in the playoffs since 2007.

The Redhawks will get together at Outback Steakhouse in Cape Girardeau to watch today's playoff selection show that will be televised nationally by ESPNU at 9 a.m.

The public is invited to join the Redhawks. Doors open at 8:40 a.m. There is no admission charge but a breakfast buffet and beverages will be available for $10.

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