Opening kickoff finally arrives for Redhawks

Monday, August 29, 2011

Another Southeast Missouri State football season kicks off Saturday night when the Redhawks host regional rival Southern Illinois.

Southeast fans, for the first time in a while, enter a season with legitimate hope and optimism.

Sure, die-hard Southeast supporters always have held strong to the belief that their team will put together a good year, but it rarely materialized. Fans usually had to forget about a poor season to remain optimistic for the new one.

That's certainly not the case entering 2011.

Southeast is coming off arguably the finest season in its 104-year football history, one that included the program's first Ohio Valley Conference championship and first playoff berth on any level along with numerous other notable accomplishments.

With 14 starters, including several All-Americans, gone from that squad, it's probably not realistic for Southeast supporters to expect similar results.

But there is enough new and returning talent that I believe fans realistically can hope for a second straight winning season -- that has not happened since the university moved up to the FCS level in 1991 -- and perhaps more.

The bottom line is that Southeast fans have every right to be genuinely fired up about the campaign.

If the Redhawks start 2011 with a win, they'll definitely have earned it. After all, you better believe SIU will be coming to Cape Girardeau breathing fire after what happened last year.

SIU was ranked fifth nationally and a heavy favorite when Southeast visited the Salukis for the second game in their new $25 million stadium.

The Salukis had romped in the previous four meetings with Southeast by a combined score of 170-57, and it looked like they again would have their way when they led 21-3 late in the third quarter.

But Southeast staged a stunning rally, winning 24-21 to improve its record to 2-1. The upset jumpstarted the Redhawks' record-setting season.

Conversely, SIU wound up 5-6 for its first losing record since 2002 and ended a run of seven straight playoff appearances.

I'm not saying the Salukis took Southeast lightly last year, or that they relaxed after building the big lead, but there is no chance any of that will happen Saturday.

It all makes for an attractive opener in front of what should be a packed Houck Stadium.

Not only do the Redhawks have a tough opener, they've got a rugged stretch to begin the season.

After SIU, the Redhawks have an open date before visiting Purdue of the Big Ten Conference in their annual guarantee game that will pay Southeast's athletic department $315,000.

Then it's on to the start of the OVC schedule that will find the Redhawks playing three of their first four and four of their first six on the road.

All nine OVC football teams play their first games this week, including an early conference opener pitting two squads that have been title contenders in recent years. Preseason favorite Jacksonville State, ninth in both major FCS polls -- no other OVC team is ranked -- hosts Tennessee-Martin on Thursday.

Four OVC squads open on the road against FBS opponents.

Murray State visits Louisville on Thursday in a contest televised nationally by ESPNU, while Saturday matchups feature Tennessee Tech at Iowa, Austin Peay at Cincinnati and Eastern Kentucky at Kansas State.

Other OVC openers find Eastern Illinois hosting Illinois State on Thursday and Tennessee State hosting Southern on Saturday.

The college football rules change that could take points off the board for taunting penalties is interesting.

The rule nullifies touchdowns if a player is called for taunting before he crosses the goal line. Examples could include players finishing touchdown runs by high-stepping into the end zone or pointing the ball toward an opponent.

Previously, the 15-yard penalty was assessed on the extra-point attempt or ensuing kickoff. Penalties called after the player crosses the goal line still will be assessed on those plays, but live-ball fouls will be assessed at the spot of the foul and eliminate the score.

Southeast coach Tony Samuel told me a few weeks ago that he and his staff had been talking to their players about this for two years because most people expected the rule to be implemented.

To the Redhawks' credit, they have had few taunting penalties that I can recall during Samuel's five seasons.

You know somewhere along the line a team is going to have a touchdown wiped out by the new rule this season. Fans can only hope it doesn't affect their squad.

The Southeast baseball program will hold its annual open tryout at 3 p.m. Wednesday at Capaha Field.

Those who wish to participate must be full-time students, registered through the NCAA Clearinghouse and have a current physical on record.

For more information, call assistant coach Chris Cafalone at 986-6002.

Marty Mishow is a sports writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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