Whitlow wins weekly award, Drake leads WRs in OVC


Jason Howell

Junior quarterback Jalen Whitlow throws the ball down the field in the Eastern football team’s home opener on Sept. 7 at O’Brien Field.

Aldo Soto, Sports Editor

Eastern quarterback Jalen Whitlow was named Ohio Valley Conference Newcomer of the Week for the third time this season.

Despite the Panthers’ loss against No. 16 Eastern Kentucky on Saturday, Whitlow threw two touchdown passes and rushed for another. He rushed for 88 yards on 14 carries, while passing for 247 yards, completing 26-of-40 passes.

The junior led Eastern to a 23-5 lead over the Colonels at halftime, finishing the first half with back-to-back touchdown drives – the first of which he capped off with a 12-yard touchdown run. Whitlow has five rushing touchdowns, which is the fourth best in the OVC.

With 39 seconds left before halftime, Whitlow completed Eastern’s seven-play, 80-yard drive with a two-yard touchdown pass to Adam Drake.

After falling behind 33-26, Whitlow led the Panthers on an 11-play, 64-yard drive, taking the ball with a little more than five minutes left to play in the fourth quarter. On fourth down and goal from the two-yard line, Whitlow threw his second touchdown pass to Drake. Nick Bruno’s extra point sent the game into overtime before the Colonels eventually won.

Whitlow is No. 2 in the OVC in total offense, averaging 253.8 yards per game. He is also the No. 3 rusher in the conference, averaging 80.5 rushing yards per game.

The Panthers play their second straight conference road game and third consecutive road game overall, starting at 1 p.m. Saturday in Cape Girardeau, Mo., against Southeast Missouri.

Drake continues to excel

Red-shirt senior Adam Drake had a season-high 13 catches and 146 yards, scoring two touchdowns against Eastern Kentucky. It was his third 100-yard receiving game and continued his streak of six straight games leading the Panthers in catches and receiving yards this year.

Drake is the No. 1 wide receiver in the OVC in receptions with 49, total receiving yards with 660 and receiving yards per game at 110.

The Charleston native has more than double the catches that Stephen Bravo-Brown has for Eastern. Bravo-Brown has 43 catches this season that is No. 2 for the Panthers. No other receiver in the conference is averaging more than 73 yards receiving other than Drake. Jacksonville State’s Josh Barge is second in the OVC, averaging 72.8 yards per game.

Eastern quarterbacks have been looking at Drake’s direction all season, as the receiver has accounted for 41.7 percent of the passing yards. In the last two games Jalen Whitlow has thrown for 536 yards. In that two-game stretch, Drake has 236 receiving yards, which amounts to 44 percent of the passing game.

Bravo-Brown and the next two leading receivers for the Panthers, which are Joe Powell and Anthony Taylor, have a combined 50 catches, 482 yards and two touchdowns.

Punting game struggles

Eastern entered Roy Kidd Stadium as the worst net-punting team in the OVC. After Saturday’s performance it got even worse.

The Panthers began their second possession of the game at their own 10-yard line. Following a series of plays that only brought Eastern to the 16-yard line, head coach Kim Dameron sent his punting unit out. With 8:54 left in the first quarter, the long snap from center went back toward Andrew Manley, but he was standing at the two-yard line, while the ball bounced at the three. It scattered between his legs and out of the end zone for a safety.

That would have been Manley’s first punt since arriving at Eastern last season. Manley began the year, sharing time at quarterback in the Panthers’ first three games. Yet, things did not get better for Manley and the Eastern punting game.

In the third quarter, Manley punted from the Panthers’ 19-yard line. Eastern Kentucky took over at the 29, following the 10-yard punt that sailed out of bounds. Later in the quarter, Manley had a 21-yard punt, which was his last of the game.

Cody Edwards, who was Eastern’s regular punter heading into the game, was then used twice. Overall, the four punts in the game netted the Panthers an average of 24 yards, which brings their season average to 24.2 net yards per punt. Dameron said the punting game continued to be an embarrassment after the loss against Eastern Kentucky.

Aldo Soto can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]