Eastern Illinois and Southeast Missouri State are playing for two totally different things when the two teams meet at 1 p.m. today (Saturday) in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. EIU looks to salvage a season that started off poorly. SEMO wants to get another win to strengthen their FCS playoff resume.
The Panthers season got off to a rough start as EIU dropped its first four games of the season before beating Tennessee Tech. EIU then lost its next two games to fall to 1-5 overall. The Panthers have bounced back by winning two of its last three contests and while EIU can't finish .500 overall, the 3-7 Panthers can still finish .500 in Ohio Valley Conference play since they are 3-4 in the league.
While 4-4 in the OVC wasn't the goal when the season began, it would be a welcome sight after how the season started for the Panthers.
"I think it would show the fight that our kids have and our coaches have. That's one thing about this football team. Just trying to dig our way out of all of the things from that we went through and the reasons for that," EIU coach Kim Dameron said. "It would be huge for us to get back to .500 in the league and it would be something that we are going to fight extremely hard to do. The biggest thing, you win your last game, it catapults your energy into the offseason program and that's something that we would love to get done."
The Redhawks come in with a 7-3 record and are 5-2 in the OVC. SEMO is coming off a crushing loss last week, though. The Redhawks were up 31-0 against Murray State in the first half when the Racers came back to take a 34-31 lead. SEMO did go back up 38-34 with 20 seconds left but lost the game when the Racers returned the ensuing kickoff for a score to win 40-38.
A win would've kept SEMO in the OVC title race but the loss allowed Jacksonville State to win the championship outright. The loss did some damage to SEMO's playoff chances as well. If the Redhawks lose to EIU on Saturday, they are firmly on the bubble with seven wins. A win over the Panthers should secure a spot for an eight-win Redhawks team.
SEMO coach Tom Matukewicz believes this is a playoff team.
"I think at the end of the day it's about players. We have one of the best players on offense and one of the players on defense, not in the league but in the country. It starts there," Matukewicz said. "I think ultimately you have to have a really good quarterback and I think we do. We have good balance. I think we would fair well for anybody that we play. We've been in every game and have a top-five win so I feel pretty good about it."
SEMO running back Marquis Terry is eighth in FCS with 1,141 yards this season and has 13 touchdowns. Quarterback Daniel Santacaterina has passed for 2,387 yards and 24 touchdowns this season. Linebacker Zach Hall has 134 tackles, four interceptions and four passes defended. Linebacker Justin Swift has 87 tackles, 12 tackles for loss and six passes defended.
For EIU, Alexander Hollins is second in the FCS with 14 touchdown receptions, which is the fourth most in a single season in the program's history. He is seventh in the FCS with 75 receptions, which is the sixth-best total in EIU single-season history. Johnathan Brantley has completed 65.2 percent of his passes (ninth in FCS) for 1,837 yards. Linebacker Dytarious Johnson has 15 tackles for loss.
The game features two of the best offenses in the OVC. SEMO is averaging 39.3 points and 443.5 yards per game and EIU is averaging 32.5 points and 440.9 yards per game. But defensively, both teams have had their struggles at times this season. SEMO has allowed 491.9 yards per game and EIU has allowed 504.1 yards per game. EIU has allowed 40 or more points in a game six times and SEMO has allowed 40 or more points in a game three times. SEMO did hold a team under 20 points but that was only one time in an upset win over Jacksonville State (31-14).
The game simply could come down to which defense gets one or two more stops than the other in what could be a potentially high-scoring game.
"With any game its who gets the stops and really, who gets the turnovers. The people that protect the ball the most, who are the most efficient in the red zone and who are the best on third down, all of the areas," Dameron said. "We are both defensive situational football coaches so we work hard on controlling those situations. Whoever can get the stops on third down, that's big. The big thing is ending every possession with a kick rather than a turnover because that's how games get away from you really quick."
The Redhawks defense has created plenty of turnovers this season. SEMO leads FCS in interceptions with 19. Even though the Redhawks lost to Murray State, they still intercepted passes last week.
This is the OVC game of the week and can be seen on ESPN3.