Indians, Racers look for win to stay in chase for OVC title

Saturday, October 26, 2002

Murray State coach Joe Pannunzio doesn't seem to care much about his football program's almost total domination of Southeast Missouri State University over the years.

Pannunzio doesn't appear to be impressed that the Racers have beaten the Indians nine straight times, lead the all-time series 31-4-1 and have not lost to Southeast at home since 1978.

All Pannunzio knows is that the only two games with Southeast he has been involved in were both highly competitive, the Racers winning 45-35 last year after trailing at halftime and prevailing 38-28 in 2000.

Pannunzio said he expects nothing different today as the Indians (5-3, 2-1) and Racers (2-4, 1-1) battle in a key Ohio Valley Conference game in Murray, Ky. The 2:30 p.m. contest will be televised by Fox Sports South and will air locally on Charter cable channel 11.

"The two times I've played SEMO it's gone down to the wire," Pannunzio said. "I don't think it will be any different this year."

Southeast coach Tim Billings, who, like Pannunzio, is in his third season at his school, also looks for another tight affair as both squads try to remain in contention for the OVC title.

"I look for it to be a really good game, and it should be close," Billings said. "It's a really important game for both teams. There's a lot on the line. To me, this game will really determine our season."

Pannunzio doesn't quite know what to make of his team, which at times has looked like one of the OVC's top squads -- but certainly didn't last Saturday during a 31-7 loss at Eastern Kentucky.

"Eastern Kentucky is a good football team, but we were disappointed with the way we played," Pannunzio said. "We knew going in that the game would be won or lost on the offensive and defensive lines. They really whipped us and we have to get better in those areas."

The Racers have been impressive at home this year, which gives Pannunzio optimism that they'll rebound today. MSU has romped in its two games at Stewart Stadium, beating Southern Illinois 42-24 and Tennessee Tech 31-14.

"We have played well at home," Pannunzio said. "But I don't know if it's an advantage right now, after you get beat like we got beat. Obviously, we've got to pick ourselves up."

Although they were outgained 439-220 against Eastern Kentucky, the Racers have been impressive offensively, particularly on the ground. MSU is second in the OVC and 12th nationally in rushing with an average of 238.5 yards per game.

The Racers spread the wealth around on the ground, with four running backs having gained more than 200 yards.

MSU is also potent through the air, with junior quarterback Stewart Childress -- already in his third season as a starter -- completing nearly 60 percent of his passes for more than 900 yards. Childress has thrown for almost 6,000 career yards to rank third in school history.

Auburn transfer Deandre Green is one of the OVC's top receivers. He has caught 33 passes for 455 yards.

"They're really a good offensive football team," Billings said. "They really run the ball well. They have an older offensive line and they ran over us last year. I think they'll try to do that again, but they can also hurt you with the pass. Green is a really talented receiver."

Defensively, the Racers have struggled in recent years but appear to be somewhat improved in that area this season. Among MSU's top defensive players is 305-pound tackle Cedric Harden, a transfer from Missouri.

Southeast counters with the OVC's second-rated offense that churns out 437.3 yards per game to rank ninth nationally.

Quarterback Jack Tomco has thrown for 1,999 yards and 19 touchdowns; Willie Ponder has caught 61 passes for 943 yards and 11 touchdowns as he leads the OVC in every receiving category while also leading the nation in total receptions and total receiving yards; and running backs Corey Kinsey (680 yards) and Keiki Misipeka (520) are first and seventh in the OVC in rushing.

"When you look at defending SEMO, they have a great receiver in Willie Ponder and some others to go with him, their quarterback is making plays and they have a running game, so they certainly stretch you on defense," Pannunzio said. "Coach Billings has done a great job at attracting some talent in there. We're going to have our hands full."

mmishow@semissourian.com

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