Now that most of the fun and games are a thing of the past, things begin to heat up in the Ohio Valley Conference as plenty is already at stake as Week 5 prepares to get underway. And with it the pretenders to the conference title will begin to be noticed.
League-leading Southeast Missouri has a chance to not only maintain its lead in the conference standings with a win over Tennessee Tech, but also create some breathing room depending on how Austin Peay does in its conference opener against Tennessee State.
Eastern Illinois, which shares the top spot in the league standings, yes, Eastern Illinois, plays at Murray State on Saturday. That game, however, will not count in the league standings and was created because of Eastern Kentucky and Jacksonville State leaving the OVC in July.
Tennessee State and Tennessee Tech share the bottom of the league standings after both teams lost their conference opener last week. Another loss by either team this early in the season only toughens the road the rest of the way.
Southeast Missouri (1-0 OVC/1-3 Overall) at Tennessee Tech (0-1 OVC/0-4 Overall)
When: Sat., Oct. 2 1:30 p.m. CT)
Where: Tucker Stadium (16,500), Cookeville, Tenn.
TV: ESPN+ (subscripton req’d)
Radio: Real Rock 99.3 FM (Cape Girardeau), KISS 98.5 FM (Cookeville)
First Meeting: 1991 (SEMO 34, TTU 31 at Cape Girardeau)
All-Time Series: TTU leads 15-14
Last Meeting: SEMO 24, TTU 21 (spring 2021 at Cape Girardeau)
Last Week: SEMO def. Tennessee State 47-14.
A tough early-season schedule continues as SEMO hits the road for the third time on the young season by traveling to Cookeville to take on Tennessee Tech. It will by the third road game already this season and the Redhawks are looking to grab their first triumph away from Houck Stadium,
The two teams will be meeting for the 30th time and a SEMO win will even the all-time series at 15 wins for each school. SEMO won the last meeting 24-21 when the teams played during the recent spring season.
The Redhawks will be looking to extend its winning to streak to five games over the Golden Eagles and their fifth in the last six encounters.
SEMO coach Tom Matukewicz said his team had the talent to run the table in the Ohio Valley Conference this season during the league’s media day in July.
Well, so far, so good.
The Redhawks ran for 380 yards last week marking the first time they have rushed for that many yards in a game since gaining 385 yards on the ground in a game against Eastern Illinois during the 1999 season.
SEMO is averaging 229.8 yards rushing per game this season. That figures places SEMO atop the OVC and ranks 15th in the nation in 2021. The Redhawks totaled 607 yards of offense in the game.
Transfer quarterback CJ Ogbonna (6-2, 215, Jr., QB) continues to be a threat at passing or running the football. He connected with eight different receivers in last week’s game and has now completed 43 of his 83 passes attempts (3 interceptions) through the first four games for 495 yards and three touchdowns. Ogbanna ranks second on the team in rushing with 163 yards on 43 carries (3.8 ypc).
Geno Hess (5-8, 209, Sr., TB) ran for a career-high 205 yards and three touchdowns last week as the Redhawks rolled all over Tennessee State. He averaged 8.2 yards per carry on his 25 attempts in the game and scored on runs of two, 63 and eight yards, with two of those TDs coming in the third quarter. Hess was later chosen as the OVC’s co-offensive player of the week for his performance against the Tigers.
The talented Hess has run for 401 yards already this season on 71 carries (5.6 ypc) and has scored five touchdowns for the Redhawks. He became just the third FCS player to rack up at least 200 yards in a game this season with his performance last week. He is averaging 100.2 yards per game and his 401 yards puts him atop the OVC rushing chart and is fourth nationally in that department. Hess is also first in the OVC and fourth in the nation with his five rushing touchdowns. In addition, he has also caught four passes for 64 yards (16.0 ypc) out of the backfield this season.
Hess’ three touchdowns increased his total to 23 rushing TDs in his career at SEMO. That total is made even more impressive considering 17 of his 23 scoring runs have come since the start of the 2020 season.
He is also approaching even more milestones at SEMO. Hess needs 47 yards against the Golden Eagles this weekend to move into the top 10 rushers in school history. He also needs just 294 more yards to reach 2,000 for his career and become the ninth player to reach that plateau at the school.
Backfield mate Shamenski Rucker (5-10, 175, So., RB) has added 147 yards on 22 carries (6.7 ypc) and has already scored three touchdowns for the Redhawks.
SEMO has a number of players bunched tightly when it comes to catching the football. Aaron Alston (6-4, 210, Sr., WR) and Terrell Jester (6-0, 190, Sr., WR) are both tied for the team-lead with six receptions on the year. Alston has racked up 99 yard while Jester’s catches have gone for 80 yards. Tight end Will Weideman (6-5, 240, Sr.) also has six receptions this season and has accumulated 58 yards.
Rashaan Palmer (6-4, 217, Jr., WR) and Johnny King (6-4, 180, Sr., WR) have tallied five catches each. Palmer’s 119 yards leads the team and King’s receptions have gone for 80 yards.
SEMO is not only solid on both sides of the ball this season. The Redhawks also have one of the top kickers in the league in the form of Kenny Doak (5-10, 200, Grad.) who accounted for 17 points last week in the win over TSU. He connected of field goals (33, 40, 39 and 45) yards. He was also a perfect on all five PATs in the game. His 7.7 kick points per game tops the OVC.
Doak was voted the FCS National Special Teams Player of the Week by STATS Perform.
The SEMO defense, which has been hit with some injuries to key players already this season, is being led by Lawrence Johnson (6-0, 194, Sr., DB) who has a team-high 23 (14 solo) tackles and Jacob Morrissey (6-0, 205, So., LB) is not far behind with 20 (12 solo) tackles, including three tackles for loss. Bryce Norman (6-0, 220, Fr., LB), who had six (4 solo) tackles in the win over Tennessee State, currently sits third on the team with 18 (9 sol) tackles and a team-high 3.5 TFLs.
THE GOLDEN EAGLES
Things could not be going much worse for Tennessee Tech as the Golden Eagles have yet to find an identity on either side of the football.
The struggles can easily be seen in losses in all four games. And all four have been double-digit losses, including last week’s 28-14 setback to Eastern Illinois.
A closer look at the numbers show Tech is averaging just 7.0 points per game on offense and is giving up an average of 40.5 points. Sorry, but that discrepancy will not win many football games … as the Golden Eagles are learning.
Drew Martin (6-2, 201, RS-So.) seems to have emerged as the first-string quarterback for Tech. He spent the first three weeks of the season playing a sort of musical chairs at the position with two other players and no real leader emerged.
Martin completed 26 of 38 passes last weekend for 315 yards and one touchdown in the loss to the Panthers. For the season he has completed 36 of 52 passes for 408 yards and is far ahead of the other two signal callers in completions, attempts and yardage, and has down so in just two appearances.
Davis Shanley (6-2, 209, Grad.), a transfer from Western Kentucky, has played in three games and has thrown for just 252 yards on 30 of 65 passing. He has thrown for just one touchdown and has been intercepted six times already this season. Willie Miller (6-0, 178, So., QB) has also seen time at the position and has completed eight of 22 passes for 59 yards.
David Gist (5-11, 190, Jr., RB) is the team’s leading ground gainer. He has rushed 49 times for 181 (3.7 ypc) and has scored twice for the Golden Eagles. He has also caught 17 passes out of the backfield for 110 yards on the season. Quinton Cross (5-11, 175, RS-So., WR) has caught 22 passes for 307 yards to lead all receivers for Tech on the young season.
With the TTU offense struggling to put points on the board, that also means the Golden Eagle defense has spent far too much time on the field. And while that allows several players to rack up some nice statistics, it all comes down to keeping opponents out of the end zone … and Tech is just not doing that. They are allowing an average of 10.1 points per quarter this season.
Josh Reliford (5-10, 200, RS-Jr., DB) is leading the Golden Eagles with 34 (17 solo) tackles this season. Four other players are averaging at least five tackles per game this season.
Jamal Boyd (6-0, 190, So., DB) and Seth Carisle (6-0, 225, Jr., LB) have tallied 25 and 24 tackles, respectively. Teammates Jack Warwick (6-0, 224, RS-So., LB) and Nyqua Washington (5-11, 170, Fr., DB) have also been busy on the season. Warwick has 23 (13 solo) tackles and Washington has added 20 tackles, including a staggering 16 stops by himself.
Eastern Illinois (1-0 OVC/1-4 Overall) at Murray State (0-0 OVC/1-2 Overall)
When: Sat., Oct. 2 (4 p.m. CT)
Where: Roy Stewart Stadium (16,800), Murray, Kent.
Radio: HIT Mix 88.9 FM (Charleston), Froggy 103.7 FM (Murray)
First Meeting: 1946 (MSU 38, EIU 13 at Murray)
All-Time Series: EIU leads 19-17
Last Meeting: MSU 41, EIU 27 (spring 2021)
Murray State had a lot of optimism heading into the 2021 season. Now, after back-to-back losses to FBS foes, the Racers look to get back to winning ways and become a factor in the Ohio Valley Conference.
And Saturday’s opponent might be the best chance to do just that based on recent history.
Murray State has won four of the last five games against the Panthers in the series between the two schools dating all the way back to 1946. The Racers are also 11-8 against EIU when playing at home. A win by MSU would narrow the gap in the overall series which EIU leads 19-17.
It is also important to note that because of the departure of Eastern Kentucky and Jacksonville State from the Ohio Valley Conference, Saturday’s game will be a non-conference game and will not factor into the league standings. The two teams are scheduled to meet for a second time this season on Nov. 20 at Eastern Illinois in the regular-season finale for both schools. That will be the game that will count toward determining conference placement.
That game later this season will also mark the third meeting between the schools in 2021. MSU defeated Eastern Illinois 41-27 during the spring season.
Wins have been few and far between in recent years in Charleston. So that makes last week’s win over Tennessee Tech all the more satisfying for Eastern Illinois.
And while this week’s encounter against Murray State does not count toward the OVC standings, a win would only fuel the optimism for the Panthers moving forward to the rest of the conference schedule.
Eastern Illinois has played respectable since opening the season with a lopsided loss at South Carolina. The two losses since that time have both come by just seven points each before finally breaking into the win column last week.
Quarterback Otto Kuhns (6-3, 205, Fr.) continues to make a name for himself in the OVC and by completing just over 50 percent of his passes this season. He has completed 50 of 99 passes for 664 yards and four touchdowns and has been picked off four times. He has also added 82 rushing yards on 34 carries (2.4 ypc) and an additional score. His 82 yards ranks third on the team in that department.
Harrison Bey-Buie (5-10, 205, Fr., RB) is another newcomer slowly establishing himself as one of the best in the OVC at that position. He leads the Panthers with 208 yards on 56 carries (3.7 ypc) and a pair of TDs through the first four games of the season.
But, it is also clear the Panthers like to go to the air. They have for players who have gained at least 96 yards through the air this season. DeAirious Smith (5-11, 175, Fr., WR) is tied for the team lead with 133 receiving yards on seven catches. He caught his first two touchdown passes on the year in last week’s win and moved into a tie for the team lead in that department. Tyler Ringwood (6-2, 215, RS-Sr., WR) also has 133 yards on eight catches this season.
Robbie Lofton (6-3, 185, RS-Sr., WR) has grabbed a team-best 14 passes for 118 yards and shares the team lead in TDs now with Smith. DeWayne Cook (6-2, 155, RS-So., WR) has 10 receptions for 96 yards.
The Panthers have perhaps the most active defensive units in the OVC this season. Six players have at least 20 tackles already this season and have combined for 23 tackles for loss.
Jason Johnson (6-2, 200, So., LB) is leading the way with 45 (24 solo) tackles, including 2.5 TFLs. Jordan Vincent (5-10, 185, Fr, SS) ranks second behind Johnson with 36 (28 solo) tackles and has 3.5 tackles for loss to his credit and Colin Bohanek (6-0, 210, Fr., LB) is right behind with 35 (13 solo) tackles and 3.5 of those for loss.
Kaelin Drakeford (6-4, 185, Fr., FS) has collected 24 (15 solo) tackles, including 2.5 tackles for loss. He also has the team’s only interception so far this season.
Jordan Miles (6-2, 215, Fr., DE), despite his small size for the position, has 20 (9 solo) tackles, which includes an eye-popping 7.5 tackles for loss. His teammate Tim Varga (6-3, 240, So., DL) also has 20 (14 solo) tackles on the season which includes 3.5 TFLs.
The 1-2 record posted by the Racers this season is a tad misleading. They opened the season with a convincing 35-0 handling of Mississippi Valley State before falling to FBS foes Cincinnati (42-7) and Bowling Green (27-10).
It’s relevant to point out that Cincinnati is currently ranked No. 7 in the nation and Bowling Green certainly has some talent as proven in the way the Falcons were able to stun Minnesota 14-10 last weekend.
But, then that matters little if the Racers are unable to capitalize on its week off to refocus as they head into the heart of the schedule.
Preston Rice (6-2, 227, RS-Jr.) continues to lead the MSU offense from his quarterback position. He has played in just two of the team’s three games and has completed 27 of 46 passes for 297 yards and has thrown four interceptions. He has also rushed the ball 18 times for 102 yards (5.7 ypc). Rice’s 51 rushing yards per game leads the team in that department.
Damonta Witherspoon (5-10, 206, RS-Fr., RB) leads the Racers on the ground with 139 yards on 43 carries (3.2 ypc) and is averaging 46.3 yard per game for a team that is putting up 156.3 yards per game on the ground. Cortezz Jones (5-11, 226, RS-Fr., RB) has contributed nicely to that total by rushing for 108 yards on just 14 carries (7.7 ypc) this season for the Racers.
LaMartez Brooks (6-1, 192, RS-Jr., WR) is leading the team in receiving with 12 catches for 151 yards. No other receiver is close to those numbers and finding a player to complement Brooks on the outside would help keep opposing defenses on their toes.
The MSU defense is being led by Levi Metheny (6-0, 233, RS-Sr., LB), Izaiah Reed (6-1, 291, RS-So., DL) and DaVontae McKee (5-10, 174, RS-So., CB). Metheny has a team-leading 13 (8 solo) tackles while Reed and McKee each has 10 tackles on the season.
Tennessee State (0-1 OVC/1-3 Overall) at Austin Peay (0-0 OVC/2-2 Overall)
When: Sat., Oct. 2 (7 p.m. CT)
Where: Fortera Stadium (10,100), Clarksville, Tenn.
TV: ESPN+ (subscription req’d)
Radio: 102.1 FM (Nashville), ESPN 104.1 FM (Austin Peay)
First Meeting: 1988 (APSU 16, TSU 12)
All-Time Series: TSU leads 14-9
Last Meeting: 2021 (APSU 27, TSU 20 – spring season)
The Tigers and Govs share one thing in common as they prepare to kick off for the 24th time in the series between the two teams: both teams are looking for their first conference win of the season.
The Tigers are coming off an huge 47-14 setback to Southeast Missouri State just one week after giving new coach Eddie George the first victory of his collegiate coaching career.
Austin Peay, meanwhile, which had been climbing the ladder of the national polls through the first three weeks of the season, took a tumble out of the polls after falling 35-27 on the road last week at Eastern Kentucky.
Tennessee State showed there is still work to be done before the Tigers can be considered for a high finish in the OVC by season’s end.
Yielding 380 rushing yards like TSU did last week will not bode well if the Tigers give up that many for a second week in a row. And Austin Peay has the talent to do just that. So, the task at hand is there for all to see: stop the run.
On the other side of the ball TSU will have to run the ball with greater success than the Tigers did a week ago. Much greater success if they expect to upend the Governors.
Quarterback Geremy Hickbottom (6-4, 210, Sr.) completed 17 of 31 passes for 251 yards and one touchdown last weekend against Southeast Missouri. Devon Starling (6-1, 200, Fr., RB), who has shown the potential to be one of the top running backs in the OVC, carried 14 times but was held to just 34 yards by the Redhawks. The Tigers could only muster 35 totals yards rushing in the contest.
Wide receiver Zaire Thornton (6-2, 180, Fr.) led the Tigers with 95 receiving yards on just three catches.
Jahsun Bryant (6-2,225, Jr., LB) paced TSU on defense against SEMO and finished the day with 14 (3 solo) tackles while three other players all posted nine total tackles in the game for the Tigers.
Cory Rahman (6-2, 195, Sr., S) posted four solo stops among his nine tackles and teammate Josh Green (5-11, 189, So., S) was credited with three unassisted tackles among his nine stops in the game. James Green (6-1, 220, RS-Jr., LB) was the third Tiger with nine total tackles in the game.
Austin Peay’s mettle will be tested in a big way as the Govs look to put the recent past quickly behind themselves, focus on the task at hand, and get their conference season off on the right foot when they play host to Tennessee State on Saturday.
Draylen Ellis (6-0, 175, So., QB) had what Gov fans are hoping was an off day in his team’s loss to Eastern Kentucky last weekend and hope that he rebounds nicely in this week’s game.
Ellis has completed 94 of 164 passes for 1,196 yards and has thrown for nine touchdowns. He has been prone to some untimely interceptions this season and has already been picked off five times.
His favorite targets have been Drae McCray (5-8, 175, Fr., WR) and Baniko Hartley (6-0, 227, Grad., WR) who have combined for 46 receptions already this season for the Govs. McCray is leading the team with 24 receptions for 319 yards and one touchdown. Hartley, meanwhile, is the leader in receiving yards with 404 after catching 22 passes for an impressive average of 18.4 yards per catch. Oh, by the way, he’s already scored four touchdowns.
Ahmaad Tanner (6-0, 205, Grad., TB) is far and away the team’s leading rusher this season. He has carried 74 times for 357 yards (4.8 ypc) and has scored four times. He’s also caught six passes out of the backfield for more than six yards per catch and making him a viable threat each time he touches the ball.
Tanner rushed for 99 yards last week in the loss at Eastern Kentucky but did reach a couple milestones on the day. He became the ninth APSU player in history to rush for at least 2,000 yards and along the way became the sixth player in program history with at least 20 rushing touchdowns.
APSU also has one of the most dynamic kick returners in the league in the form of heralded newcomer Kam Thomas (5-7, 173, Fr.) who is averaging 24 yards on five kickoff returns this season.
The Austin Peay defense has standouts in all areas of the field and is being led by Koby Perry (6-0, 174, Grad., DB) and Troy Hendrson (5-11, 222, Grad., LB) who has 29 and 27 total tackles, respectively. Perry has 20 solo stops among his 29 tackles and has recorded 3.5 tackles for loss, including one sack. Henderson boasts 14 solos among his tackles this season.
Jack McDonald (6-0, 210, Grad., LB) has accumulated 22 (9 solo) tackles this season and two other players have also been moving up the defensive charts for the Govs. Kordell Jackson (5-10, 185, Grad., DB) and Terrell Allen (6-0, 275, So., DL) have tallied 16 and 13 total tackles, respectively, and are tied for the team-lead with 4.5 TFLs already this season.
A native of Bismarck, N.D., Ray is a graduate of North Dakota State University where he began studying athletic training and served as a student trainer for several Bison teams including swimming, wrestling and baseball and was a trainer at the 1979 NCAA national track and field championship meet at the University of Illinois. Ray later worked in the sports information office at NDSU. Following his graduation from NDSU he spent five years in the sports information office at Missouri Western State University and one year in the sports information at Georgia Tech. He has nearly 40 years of writing experience as a sports editor at several newspapers and has received numerous awards for his writing over the years. A noted sports historian, Ray is currently an assistant editor at Amateur Wrestling News.