Eastern defense rallies in spring game victory

Blake Nash, Staff Reporter

After finding themselves in an early 21-point hole, the Eastern defense rallied for a 43-38 victory at the annual spring football game on Saturday.

The Panther defense was able to cut into the offense’s 24-3 lead in the first half by forcing the offense into three straight three-and-out drives.

That swing in momentum would carry over into the second half, as the Eastern offense was held scoreless in the half. A pair of forced turnovers by the defense, including a fumble recovery by junior Kamu Grugier-Hill, would give them six points.

Defensive back sophomore Cedric Julius gave the defense more points with an interception during the second half.

Eastern coach Kim Dameron said the Panthers accomplished a couple of goals during the spring game.

“I thought we got three main things out of the spring game,” Dameron said. “We came out of the game injury free. We showed that our offense can be explosive if we eliminate turnovers, and that our defense can really compete.”

That explosive offense Dameron was referring to included a 151-yard performance by All-Ohio Valley Conference quarterback junior Jalen Whitlow.

The returning starter also threw for two touchdowns, including a 56-yard pass to first-year running back Korliss Marshall, a transfer from Arkansas, on the third play of scrimmage.

Whitlow’s other passing touchdown came on a 38-yard strike to wide receiver red-shirt junior Trey Pendergrass for the final first half touchdown.

Devin Church, a transfer from Illinois, scored the only rushing touchdown of the day, on a 65-yard scamper in the first quarter to make it a 17-3 game.

The offense played a total of four quarterbacks with three of them finishing the day with at least one touchdown.

Second-string quarterback red-shirt freshman Austin Green connected with tight end Addison Bounds on a 23-yard strike, while Mattoon native and freshman Jared Pilson hit freshman Trevon Smith for a 14-yard score.

All of those touchdowns, including Whitlow’s, all came in the first half. The offense led 38-18 at halftime.

The Panthers’ defense was sparked by a couple of pass rushers, as defensive tackle red-shirt junior Dino Fanti and this year’s wolf player red-shirt junior Fedney Delphonse combined for five of the team’s nine sacks. Delphonse also broke up two passes.

“Fedney has done a good job moving into the wolf position,” Dameron said. “It fits his game.  He is a good pass rusher and has the ability to drop back into coverage.”

Sophomore linebacker Seth McDonald led the defense with eight tackles on the rainy day in Charleston.

“The offense really had it going early on,” Dameron said. “We had a couple of turnovers in the second half that gave the defense some momentum. The defense was able to get back into the game and made plays at the end of the game.”

Dameron said he wanted to solidify his team on Saturday as they head into summer and fall practices. He said the Panthers gained a good amount of momentum during the spring that they need to carry into the future.

“Our goal now is to carry the momentum we have built from these 15 practices in the spring into the summer,” Dameron said. “Our guys competed and showed a passion to get better with every practice. For the 15 days we had we were able to get better and get the new players familiar with our system.”

The Panthers will open up their season September 3 in Macomb against Western Illinois.


Blake Nash can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]