Indians' win on the road was a surprise breakthrough

Sunday, September 29, 2002

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. -- If you're a Southeast Missouri State University football fan -- or player or coach -- forgive me for saying this.

I figured the Indians would get creamed by Middle Tennessee State Saturday night.

Not that I don't think the Indians are making steady progress under third-year coach Tim Billings and his staff. I believe they are.

But the Indians are still trying to break into the grouping of better Division I-AA teams in the country and they had lost their last two games.

The Raiders, meanwhile, have quickly made their mark as a legitimate Division I-A program. And even though they entered Saturday's contest winless on the season, their three defeats had been highly competitive affairs against Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky.

So I figured the Raiders, extremely hungry for a victory, would make short and lopsided work of the Indians, who would pick up a decent paycheck and then regroup for the start of Ohio Valley Conference play next Saturday.

But a funny thing happened to the Raiders on their way to an expected blowout -- they got dominated physically and suffered a 24-14 loss that has to rank as one of the more stunning results nationally this college football season.

Point spreads aren't determined when I-A teams take on I-AA foes, but I'd guess the Indians would have probably been something in the area of 40-point underdogs. And that might have even been a bit on the low side.

But there are a couple of things the Indians have going for them this season -- and I wrote this earlier. It's their heart and character. Southeast might have its share of deficiencies -- although they weren't readily apparent Saturday -- but the Indians truly do seem to believe in themselves and they do seem to respond well under pressure, even if sometimes the outcome is not favorable.

Against MTSU, Southeast appeared to have everything going its way. The offensive line dominated, protecting quarterback Jack Tomco tremendously -- he was not sacked -- and opening up nice running holes, especially in the second half. The defense turned in by far its top performance of the season.

It would have been one thing if Southeast had capitalized on a bunch of MTSU mistakes and kind of lucked its way to a victory, although that would have been surprising enough.

But the Indians' win was no fluke because on this night they were the far superior team, even moreso than the 10-point margin. Southeast had a 407 to 284 edge in total yards, which is almost as shocking as the final score.

So now the Indians are 3-2 and will come home after four straight road games to begin OVC play against Tennessee State next Saturday night. The Tigers have been struggling and, with a date the following week at lowly Tennessee-Martin, Southeast has a golden opportunity to start off with a 2-0 OVC record for the first time since it joined the conference in 1991.

Southeast football fans have not had very many reasons to get excited over the last several years. But Saturday's huge upset is certainly one of them.

It's now official -- the Rams are in big trouble.

After Monday's loss at Tampa Bay, the 0-3 Rams will have to do some serious playing the rest of the way to make the playoffs, although they still have time left to make up for their struggles. The Rams should at be able to get their first win today when the struggling Cowboys visit St. Louis. I look for a blowout.

It's great to see Jackson High School senior Kim Anderson playing tennis again after an automobile accident forced her to miss last season and go through months of rehabilitation.

Kim's story of determination and perseverence should be an inspiration to all of us.

Marty Mishow is a sports writer for the Southeast Missourian

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