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CSN Inside The OVC: Setting the Tone

By James D. Horne, CSN Inside The OVC Columnist

The conference’s eyes will be on Charleston, Ill., this Saturday when Jacksonville State (2-1, 0-0 OVC) heads up to face No. 20 Eastern Illinois in the Ohio Valley Conference Game of the Week.

It’s the conference opener for both teams and EIU leads the series 3-2.

The winner of four of the past five games has gone on to claim the OVC title. The only year it didn’t happen, last season, a 37-23 EIU victory, the Panthers still claimed a playoff spot.


The game has certainly become a rivalry game for both teams.

“There’s no question about that,” EIU coach Bob Spoo said. “The outcome of these games have determined playoff position every year and it’s become quite a rivalry. And with that, you expect that kind of effort from both those teams.”

Eastern Illinois (2-2, 0-0 OVC) has won the last three meetings, and overall the teams have combined to win or share six of the last seven OVC crowns.

“Instead of ending season and it being the climax, it’s the beginning and sets tone,” Jax State coach Jack Crowe said. “They’ve beaten us the last three years and they’re a good football team. I’ve been trying to educate the people of Alabama of the great football heritage and tradition that is at Eastern. There’s a question of who are rival is geographically, but Eastern is our rival internally because of the respect we have for their program. We hope to we’re ready to play.”

QUARTERBACK SHOWDOWN: A big key in the in the Eastern Illinois-Jacksonville State contest will be the play of the quarterbacks.

Jax State is led by former LSU star Ryan Perrilloux, who’s fifth in the league in total offense averaging 178.3 yards a game.

“We’ve played some good quarterbacks and hopefully that will get us in the proper frame of mind to play against them,” Spoo said. “We’ve not exactly done well against those type of athletic quarterbacks. We’re just trying to come up with a good plan. We’re not going to stop him, we just hope he doesn’t hurt us badly enough to where we can’t overcome it.”

EIU has Bodie Reeder at the helm and he led the Panthers back from a 21-7 deficit to beat Illinois State for the first time in six years, 25-21.

“I don’t think there’s any question that Reeder is a guy who knows how to win, because he’s won against us in big fashion. There won’t be a confidence issue with him or anyone at Eastern. The ones they’ve had on the field have never lost to us.”

TIGERS ROLLING: No. 25 Tennessee State keeps rolling along.

The Tigers (4-0, 1-0 OVC) remained the lone undefeated team in the Ohio Valley Conference with their 34-20 win over league foe Eastern Kentucky last Saturday.

It was Tennessee State’s first win over the Colonels since 1999, the Tigers also won in 1998, which coincidentally where the last two times they won the OVC championships.

“It was a big win for us,” TSU coach James Webster said. “We know that EKU is one of the top teams in the OVC and they’ve showed that. Our players were eager and wanted to play their best game. Coming into the game, people wondered if we were legitimate contenders and I think the players answered that question. Now, we’re still not where want to be. But our players showed the heart of this team by winning that game.”

Webster credits Tennessee State’s success to the team’s experience.

“It all starts with our seniors,” Webster said. “This is my fourth year here and the first time we’ve had 26 seniors. It all starts with them. They know who I am, what I like and expect. They say a football team reflects the personality of the head coach and this football team is beginning to reflect my personality. That being hard work and being committed, dedicated and having a never-say die attitude.”

HEFFNER FOR PAYTON AWARD: Another major factor in Tennessee State’s 4-0 start is the play of senior quarterback Antonio Heffner, who just won his second OVC Offensive Player of the Week Award.

Heffner, who’s ranked fifth in the nation in total offense (309.75 ypg), eighth in passing efficiency (171.95), 17th in passing yards (264 ypg) and 24th in points responsible for a game (13.5), probably should be a candidate for the Walter Payton Award shouldn’t he coach?

“Why wouldn’t he be,” Webster said. “I don’t understand why he’s not one already. He’s not only won the OVC honor twice, but also has gotten the National Player of the Week twice (Sports Network and CSN). The guy is phenomenal player and putting up excellent numbers in leading this football team. Plus he has a 3.7 GPA. I don’t know who wouldn’t be deserving with a performance like his.”

ANOTHER SHORT WEEK: Tennessee Tech will play its third game on Thursday when it hosts Central Methodist in Cookeville.

CMU historically has been one of the weaker teams on the NAIA level, but the Golden Eagles worry if they’ve had enough preparation time because of quick turnarounds.

“We just don’t have the team to go and bomb people,” Tech coach Watson Brown said “I feel like we’re still a few years away from that. But this game is on a short week and we are concerned about that.”

GRIFFIN BACK: Murray State coach Matt Griffin will return to the sidelines after being suspended for last Saturday’s game against Western Kentucky, a 50-9 loss.

Griffin, who was suspended for comments made about OVC officials after the Racers’ 42-23 loss to Illinois State on Sept. 13, was allowed to travel with the team but couldn’t be on the sidelines.

“It was a tough one, but that’s the way it goes,” he said of the suspension. “I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.”

NEW QB AT PEAY: Austin Peay’s starting quarterback Gary Orr will miss the rest of the season after injuring his right thumb in Austin Peay’s 31-17 loss to UT Martin Saturday.

The junior will have surgery to repair the thumb Wednesday.

“I hate it for him,” Austin Peay coach Rick Christophel said. “I thought he was getting better and better everyday. He was becoming more mature as a quarterback and he wasn’t playing that bad the other night. He made some good throws and throws other times that people should have made plays on but didn’t. This is something he’s going to have to battle back from, get in the weight room and rehab from it. He’s a tough kid. He injured it and went right back out and threw a pass after it happened. So it’s amazing he even did that.”

Sophomore T.C. Jennings, who replaced Orr Saturday, will take over the starting reigns and will be backed up by Trent Caffee.

The Govs don’t plan on taking the redshirt off freshman Jake Ryan, and if Jennings or Caffee were to get injured they would likely move a player, possibly slot receiver Scott Thomas, to quarterback, which was his original position.

Thursday’s Game
All times Central

Central Methodist Eagles (1-2, 1-2 HAAC) at Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles (2-2, 1-0 OVC), 7 p.m. (OVCSports.TV)
The two teams have never met. The Eagles (the alma mater of this reporter) won its only conference championship in 1975. Tech quarterback Lee Sweeney is expected to return.

Saturday’s Games
All times Central

Southeast Missouri State Redhawks (1-3, 0-1 OVC) at Indiana State Sycamores (0-3, 0-0 MVFC) 11 a.m. (OVCSports.TV)
The teams first met since 1935, but are playing for the second time since 1999. The series is tied 3-3 with the Redhawks winning 13-10 at home last year. It was SEMO’s first win since shutting out the Sycamores 13-0 in 1943.

Jacksonville State Gamecocks (2-1, 0-0 OVC) at No. 16 Eastern Illinois Panthers (2-2, 0-0 OVC), 1:30 p.m. (OVCSports.TV)
The teams are meeting for the sixth time with the Panthers holding a 3-2 edge. Four times the winner of this game has gone on to win the OVC title and the teams have claimed six of the last seven league crowns. EIU won last year’s game 37-23 and has won three in a row.

Austin Peay Governors (0-4, 0-1 OVC) at Eastern Kentucky Colonels (1-3, 0-1 OVC), 2 p.m. (OVCSports.TV)
It’s the 41st meeting between the Govs and the Colonels. But defending champion EKU has won the last 21 games, including the 28-14 victory in Clarksville in 2007. That was the first meeting between to two in 10 seasons as the Govs had just rejoined the conference. Austin Peay last win, 20-17 decision came, in 1977. EKU leads all-time 37-3.

No. 23 Tennessee State Tigers (4-0, 1-0 OVC) vs. Florida A&M Rattlers (2-1, 1-1 MEAC), 20th Bank of America Atlanta Football Classic in Atlanta, 3 p.m. (Versus)
This is the 48 meeting all-time, the 12th overall and 10th in a row in Atlanta. The Tigers hold a slim 24-23-1 edge all-time thanks to A&M’s 18-17 win in 2007, the Rattlers’ sixth in a row and ninth in 12 games. The Tigers last won in 2001, a 27-7 victory.

UT Martin Skyhawks (3-1, 1-0 OVC) at Murray State Racers (1-3, 0-0 OVC), 6 p.m. (OVCSports.TV)
The Skyhawks have won the last three of a series that began in 1927, including a 76-34 triumph in 2007. The 76 points tied an OVC record for most points scored in a conference game. The Racers lead it all-time 31-12-1 and had won 12 in a row from 1993 to 2004. Racers coach Matt Griffin is returning from a one-game suspension.