Mystery and madness awaits on Saturday

If you aren’t pumped up for this weekend’s home football game – No. 4 Jacksonville State vs. Eastern – then I’m here to tell you that you do not have a pulse. Or maybe you should check it. If you can’t do it by yourself see a doctor. Eastern is 0-3. Yes, that’s zero wins and three losses. You should be in panic mode.

The football coaches and players won’t show their panic, but at least head coach Bob Spoo and red-shirt senior defensive lineman Spyros Bazigos can say that they are nervous. That’s right, Spoo, the 24-year Eastern coaching legend, is nervous. That’s not confidence. No, that’s the complete opposite. Spoo and Bazigos, who defensive coordinator Roc Bellantoni calls the Greek God of Tackles for Loss, are nervous. Bazigos admits that the team is nervous. He said it’s a “good nervousness,” but is there such a thing?

Maybe they’re anxious. Seriously, you should be, too. If you’re not nervous, excited, anxious, or worried, then I don’t know that you can call yourself an Eastern football fan. You’re team is 0-3 – one loss away from the total number of losses (4) is had last season. If Eastern hits loss No. 4 this weekend – I’ve said this before, and will say it again – you can pretty much say, “Bye season, our meeting was far too short.”

Whether it is Spoo, Bazigos, Bellantoni or offensive coordinator Roy Wittke, the Eastern football team is not ready to say sayonara. You shouldn’t be ready either. For this Saturday (1:30 p.m. kickoff at O’Brien) you should be off your nut for the game. There is so much to expect, and yet so much mystery to it. Spoo and Wittke have both said they are planning to pull out all of the stops on offense this weekend. They’re willing to do anything – anything – to win. And they aren’t going to go quietly.

But they aren’t willing to even share some of the strategy they have for this weekend’s game with the media. They have a secret plan, a “Confidential” label stamped on a manila folder somewhere. Not even President Nixon can find it.

Wittke promised this:

“We’re not leaving the gun loaded.”

The offense is going to throw everything they have at the Gamecocks. Nobody is messing around this week. There is no more looking back, Wittke said, there is a strict focus on Saturday’s game. As there ought to be.

Bazigos said this weekend’s game is the biggest of the season. Forget the Homecoming game. Forget potential playoff games. Forget the Illinois State game. This is the biggest game of the season. I hope you realize that, because if you don’t then you’re going to miss out on something that is potentially very special Saturday. There is no guessing the things that might happen Saturday, in a game between two bitter rivals. The Panthers and Gamecocks are always competing for an Ohio Valley Conference crown, year in and year out. This year, sure one team might be 3-0 and another 0-3, but what is at stake is still very much the same. In fact, it’s probably heightened because Eastern has started so poorly.

Nobody should expect Eastern, a team ranked among the top 20 teams in the Football Championship Subdivision polls in the preseason, to surrender its season away. From what Wittke has told me, the Panthers will go as far as physically possible to win this game. You have one night now, to lay awake in bed thinking about the ridiculous things that could happen Saturday. The stands, home and away, should be packed. The coaching schemes are in place. The players have intensity gushing out of their pores. Everyone is ready for this.

It’s the Hall of Fame Game Saturday.

Who will play like it?

Alex McNamee can be reached at 581-7944 or [email protected]