NAIA school Central Methodist will visit Houck Stadium on Saturday
Central Methodist coach Alan Dykens has no idea if the underdog Eagles have a shot at an upset Saturday.
Dykens does know that his NAIA squad from Fayette, Mo., will play hard and enjoy itself when it faces Football Championship Subdivision member Southeast Missouri State in a 1 p.m. kickoff at Houck Stadium.
"I'm not even going to approach that aspect of it," Dykens said when asked about the Eagles' chances of beating Southeast. "They're definitely looking forward to the challenge and the opportunity. We basically just want to have fun.
"It's an opportunity to play in a wonderful atmosphere. It's a once-in-a-lifetime chance for some of these kids."
CMU is headed for one of its better seasons over the past two decades regardless of what happens Saturday.
The Eagles are 5-3 overall and in the Heart of America Athletic Conference. They are riding a three-game winning streak and are guaranteed of finishing at least .500 for just the fourth time in the past 20 years.
"We're excited about the direction we're going," said Dykens, in his fourth season at CMU. "We're not satisfied. I don't think anybody ever is in this business."
Southeast coach Tony Samuel, whose squad is 2-6 overall and 2-4 in the Ohio Valley Conference, believes the Eagles are more than capable of springing an upset if the Redhawks don't perform well.
Samuel said he doesn't worry about his players overlooking CMU since the defending OVC champion Redhawks are hungry for some wins.
"We're in no position to take anybody lightly," Samuel said.
Samuel knows how excited the Eagles will be for Saturday's game because it's a chance for them to show they can compete with a team from a higher division.
"They're going to come in here fired up, no question about it," Samuel said.
Southeast is 5-0 against lower-division squads under Samuel, but it hasn't always been easy for the Redhawks.
The Redhawks' closest call came in 2008, when they needed to rally and force overtime before beating Division II Southwest Baptist 35-28.
Even last year, during their championship, playoff season, the Redhawks struggled much of the way against Southwest Baptist before pulling away to win 40-14.
Samuel is wary of CMU's option-oriented offense and defense that has recorded 25 sacks and 13 interceptions.
"They run a wing-T offense with option, a fair amount of deception. They're very aggressive on defense, an attack style," Samuel said. "They've won some games, put up some impressive numbers. We have to be ready to go."
The Eagles used a spread offense the past two years, with junior quarterback Bryant Jackson throwing for more than 2,000 yards both seasons.
Jackson, listed as 5 foot 7 and 160 pounds, has thrown for 705 yards while completing just 47.3 percent (44 of 93) with six touchdowns and five interceptions this year.
"He has the ability to run and he can throw on the run," Samuel said.
Three CMU running backs have gained more than 300 yards, led by senior James Cody Jr. with 478 yards and junior Burton Iosefa with 417 yards. Iosefa is averaging 7.2 yards per carry and Cody 5.7.
"We've changed offenses. I think our kids are starting to pick it up," Dykens said. "I think it's been a positive move."
CMU's defense has been strong, allowing averages of 16.3 points and 255.6 yards per game.
Junior defensive end Trevor Robinson has eight quarterback sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss while senior safety Travis McDowell leads the HAAC with six interceptions, returning two for touchdowns.
"Coach Samuel is a great coach. He's done a phenomenal job," Dykens said. "We're just hoping to go in and have a good showing for ourselves, basically do the type of things that will allow us to get better."
And the Redhawks are hoping to avoid an upset.