Eastern hosts SEMO for Family Weekend

Blake Nash, Staff Reporter

The Eastern football team will host Southeast Missouri on Saturday in a battle of unbeaten Ohio Valley Conference teams. Both teams won their OVC opener last week, with Eastern defeating Austin Peay 40-16 on the road and SEMO defeating Murray State at home 27-10.

Eastern coach Kim Dameron sees this game as similar to his own vision of football.

“It’s a game of acquiring land,” Dameron said. “You’ve got to probe deep into it and extract points.

To be able to do that this week the Panthers will have to deal with SEMO’s junior punter Alex Knight. Knight has averaged 45.2 yards per punt this season, and can accurately punt the ball to both sides of the field. Dameron wants his punt return team to pressure Knight as if he were a quarterback.

“There’s two things we’ve got to do a good job of,” Dameron said. “Make sure we get some holdups, trying to get the return game going. We’ve got to try to affect him by giving him some pressure, a lot like what we give a quarterback.”

Redshirt senior running back Shepard Little has been Eastern’s main returner this year, and has returned two punts for 31 yards, which includes a 33-yard return last week at Austin Peay. Little said his duties will be a little different this week because Knight is a left-footed punter.

“He’s left-footed, so I know the punt’s going to come down different,” Little said. “I’m going to start spotting to the right. You’ve just got to focus on catching it that’s all.”

To be able to execute their return plan, the Panthers will need to stop a potent Redhawks offense led by senior wide receiver Paul McRoberts and newcomers quarterback Dante Vandeeven  and running back Tremane McCullough.

McCullough, a junior transfer from Arizona Western Community College, has averaged 104.4 yards per game on the ground leading the Redhawks in that category. He is a big reason why the Redhawks are second in the OVC, averaging 223.8 yards per game.

Vandeven, a freshman, has come on in the last three weeks and thrown 41-of-59 passes for 440 yards and three touchdowns. He’s also carried the ball 23 times for 102 yards. He has found a weapon in senior wide receiver Paul McRoberts.

McRoberts caught eight passes for 169 yards and two touchdowns last week against Murray State. One of his catches, a 44-yard grab earned a spot on “SportsCenter’s Top 10 late Saturday night.  He needs just three touchdowns to break the school’s all-time record.

One of the Panthers defensive backs expected to deal with McRoberts on Saturday is redshirt senior Antoine Johnson. Johnson has broken up four passes this season.

“He’s a good route runner and catcher,” Johnson said. “So we’ve got to make sure we surround him and run to the ball, and make plays.”

As for the Eastern offense, the Panthers have made good strides in recent weeks, averaging 450.5 yards per game in the last two weeks. Little said to challenge the Redhawks defense, they need to be physical at the line.

We’ve just got to come out and execute, and be physical up front,” Little said.

This will be the 23rd game between the two programs, and Eastern holds a commanding 16-6 series lead, and has won the last three games.

While Little sees Illinois State as the Panthers biggest rival, he said that any game at O’Brien Stadium is a rivalry game.

“Whoever comes to O’Brien (Field) is looked at as a rival,” Little said.

Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. at O’Brien Field.


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