If Southeast Missouri State University's football team is going to clinch its first winning season since 1994 this week, the Indians will have to beat a team they have never defeated before -- and do it in an extremely emotional setting.
Southeast (6-4 overall, 3-2 Ohio Valley Conference) travels to Richmond, Ky., for a 5 p.m. Saturday game with 17th-ranked Eastern Kentucky (7-3, 3-1) and coaching legend Roy Kidd.
Not only have the Colonels won all 12 meetings with the Indians, the game will mark the final home appearance for Kidd, who is retiring following this season. Kidd has a 314-122-8 record in his 39th season at EKU and he is the nation's third winningest active Division I coach.
Speaking at his weekly media conference Monday, Southeast coach Tim Billings said he has somewhat mixed feelings about being Kidd's final home opponent. Saturday's game figures to attract a big and enthusiastic crowd, with many of Kidd's former players on hand.
"I'm not real excited about doing that, but at the same time I feel honored," Billings said. "I've known Roy a long time. I respect him. It's really an honor for me as a young football coach. Southeast being part of that, it's a great situation."
The Colonels would be tough enough to beat even without the hoopla surrounding Kidd's final home appearance.
Not only have the Indians never defeated the Colonels, but most of the games haven't even been close. EKU's smallest margin of victory over Southeast was nine points in 1999. Billings' first two Indian squads lost to the Colonels 42-24 last season and 48-24 two years ago.
"We've never really played them close," Billings said. "It would be another first for us, if we can win."
Billings believes the Indians match up relatively well with the Colonels, who are by far the OVC's top defensive team, which he hopes will give Southeast a shot at winning.
Even if the Indians can't pull off the upset, they'll be favored against Samford in their final game, on Nov. 16 at Houck Stadium, and a victory there would still allow them to finish with only their second winning record since moving up to Division I-AA in 1991.
"That's our big goal, to have a winning season," senior All-American wide receiver Willie Ponder said. "That would be great for the program and a great way for the seniors to go out."
Defense did better
Although Southeast allowed quite a few points during Saturday's wild 36-30 win over Tennessee Tech, the Indians' defense showed considerable improvement by giving up just 338 yards. Southeast's last several opponents had all racked up more than 400 yards.
"I thought we played a lot better defensively," Billings said. "We played better in the secondary. We moved some people around. We moved Mike Miller to safety, Demar Winston to nickel, and Anthony Lumpkin played a lot of safety.
"Dimitri Patterson is getting healthy and Marco Tipton played well."
One key member of the secondary, safety Chaun Tate, missed the Tennessee Tech game with a leg injury. Also out on defense were linebackers Kelvin Jones and Travion Brock, who both have shoulder injuries. The status of all three for this week is up in the air.
Nearing some records
Even though Eastern Kentucky has a stout defense, junior quarterback Jack Tomco is likely to break Southeast's record for single-season passing yardage against the Colonels.
Tomco has 2,481 yards and trails career passing yardage leader Jason Liley, who threw for 2,580 yards in 1990. Tomco, in his first year with the Indians, already holds the school record for single-season touchdown passes (22), along with single-game marks for TD passes (5), passing yards (429) and total yards (429).
With 1,073 receiving yards, Ponder is closing in on Farron Haley's single-season school record of 1,116, set in 1989. Ponder's 67 receptions trail Southeast record-holder Glenn Krupa, who caught 77 balls in 1992.
Ponder has already matched his single-season touchdown reception record of 11, set last year, and with 22 career TD receptions, he is tied with John Diepenbrock (1965-68) for the school mark.
Sophomore tailback Corey Kinsey, despite threatening to compile just the sixth 1,000-yard rushing season in school history, has dropped out of the OVC rushing lead. Kinsey has 864 yards and his average of 96 yards per game has him second in the conference.