It all comes down to Saturday.
Playing away for the final game of the season, the Racers (6-4, 4-3 OVC) must land a victory over the Southeast Missouri State Redhawks (3-7, 2-5 OVC) to even be considered for this year’s Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
Even then, it’s not a guarantee. The Racers need some teams to lose and some teams to win this weekend in order to shake up the OVC standings and propel them to the playoffs.
The focus this week, however, was not on the playoffs, but the importance of finishing on a strong note and improving to 7-4 on the season.
Junior defensive back Julian Whitehead said confidence was high in the locker room after a victory over Austin Peay and hoped the confidence would roll into Saturday’s matchup.
“We’re just trying to keep momentum heading into this week,” Whitehead said. “They’ll be excited to play and it’s going to be a pretty good matchup.”
Last year, SEMO beat Murray State 30-17 to hand them their first OVC loss of the season. However, this year it will be junior quarterback Casey Brockman (305 passing yards per game) and senior running back Mike Harris (99 rushing yards per game) at the helm to attempt a payback.
SEMO, which runs a unique option offense, is led by senior quarterback Matt Scheible. Scheible leads the team in passing and in rushing, throwing for 132 yards and rushing for 86 yards a game.
Behind Scheible are freshmen running backs Lennies McFerren, Spencer Davis, A.J. Cobb and freshman defensive back Ron Coleman, all of whom average nearly 30 yards rushing per game and could carry the ball at any time during Saturday’s matchup.
Junior defensive back Darius Buck said the team spent most of practice this week working on assignments and trying to not get caught out of position to make a play.
“They try to beat you to the outside,” Buck said. “We’re working really hard to stop the option.”
SEMO boasts the best rushing offense in the OVC, averaging 224 yards per game, while the Racers give opponents 180 yards per game.
Coach Chris Hatcher said depth, even at the end of the year, is still a major concern for this weekend’s matchup.
“We’ve got key guys that have been getting banged up,” Hatcher said. “Our staff has a done a good job in putting the guys in the right position to be successful.”
Hatcher said he was not put off by SEMO’s record on the season and has the guys prepared for a tough away game.
“This is a very challenging game for us,” he said. “They’ve played everyone down to the wire and they’ve been in every ballgame they’ve played.”
Containing the option was the key for practice this week, but Hatcher said SEMO has other means of moving the ball.
“They give you a bunch of different formations you have to work on,” he said. “They give you the option, they’ll run the power game and then they’ll run four-wide and throw it.”
SEMO’s defensive schemes, Hatcher said, are anybody’s guess.
“They just give you so many looks,” he said. “You don’t really know what to expect from them. They have a new defensive coordinator, so there are a lot of unknowns when trying to plan.”
Kickoff is 2 p.m. Saturday at Houck Stadium in Cape Girardeau, Mo.