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Indians want shot at big lead this year against SIU
Turnabout is only fair play, which is why Southeast Missouri State University football coach Tim Billings wouldn't mind giving Southern Illinois a chance to make up a huge deficit tonight.
"I'd like to get up 31-0 on them this time and let them come back, see if they can do it," said Billings with a laugh.
Billings was referring, of course, to last year's meeting between the fierce rivals, when the Indians stormed back from a 31-0 first-half deficit to post a stunning 34-33 victory.
That triumph happened to be Billings' first as a collegiate head coach as he was in only his second Southeast game after taking over the Indians' struggling program.
Jerry Kill would no doubt like nothing better tonight than to notch his initial victory as SIU's coach as he takes over the Salukis' slumping program after serving the past two years as head coach at Division II Emporia State.
But, all kidding aside, Billings doesn't expect a 31-point lead by either side when the squads square off in a 6 p.m. kickoff at Houck Stadium. It will be the season opener for SIU while Southeast is 0-1 after falling 16-12 at Division I-A Eastern Michigan last Saturday.
"I look for a close, exciting game," Billings said. "I really think it's going to be a great game and hopefully we'll have a really big crowd."
If tonight's contest is able to even come close to matching what transpired Sept. 9 last year in Carbondale, then fans are definitely in for a treat. In one of the more amazing games imaginable, the Indians appeared to be hopelessly overmatched.
Despite Southeast scoring a touchdown late in the first half to pull within 31-7, SIU tacked on a safety early in the second half to go up 33-7. But the Indians scored the final 27 points and took the lead for good in the closing moments.
"That was my first win as a head coach, so it was really special, especially the way it happened," said Billings. "But this is a new year and a whole different game. What happened last year won't have anything to do with this game."
Both Billings and Kill are trying to revive programs that have been down. The Indians, who have not had a winning season since 1994, went 3-8 last year but Billings saw plenty of signs for encouragement in last Saturday's near-upset of Eastern Michigan.
The Salukis also went 3-8 a year ago, which led to the dismissal of Jan Quarless. SIU has not posted a winning record since 1991.
What concerns Billings the most about tonight's game is that the Salukis have not yet played a game under their new coaching staff, giving the Indians very little to go on.
"We don't really know anything about them, what they're going to run," he said. "As a coaching staff, we're going to have to make adjustments on the run. How well we do that will determine the outcome of the game."
Billings does figure the Indians will receive a healthy does of SIU tailback Tom Koutsos, a powerful junior who gashed Southeast for 159 yards last year on his way to a 1,257-yard season. Koutsos also had more than 1,000 yards as a freshman.
"One of the keys will be to slow him down," Billings said.
Another key figures to be SIU quarterback Madei Williams, a Syracuse transfer who started for the Orangeman two years ago before losing his job last season. Williams is big (6-3, 225) and can move.
"He's supposed to be a great athlete. Supposedly he can run, but we don't know what," said Billings. "We hear they're going to use a spread offense, like us."
Kill, who said he is anxious to finally see his first SIU team play a game, is wary of the Indians.
"Our feedback and feeling is SEMO is a lot better football team than they were a year ago," he told the Southern Illinoisan newspaper. "I don't think there's any question about that and I think coach Billings would tell you that."
Billings has said as much on numerous occasions. And he's hoping that improvement will pay off with a second straight win over the Salukis.