Eastern football team capitalize on early takeaways in win

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Eastern football team capitalize on early takeaways in win

Red-shirt senior defensive back Jourdan Wickliffe intercepts a the ball during the Panthers' 51-20 Homecoming win against Tennessee Tech on Saturday at O'Brien Field.  Wickliffe had three tackles and one sack during the game.

Red-shirt senior defensive back Jourdan Wickliffe intercepts a the ball during the Panthers' 51-20 Homecoming win against Tennessee Tech on Saturday at O'Brien Field. Wickliffe had three tackles and one sack during the game.

Jason Howell

Red-shirt senior defensive back Jourdan Wickliffe intercepts a the ball during the Panthers' 51-20 Homecoming win against Tennessee Tech on Saturday at O'Brien Field. Wickliffe had three tackles and one sack during the game.

Jason Howell

Jason Howell

Red-shirt senior defensive back Jourdan Wickliffe intercepts a the ball during the Panthers' 51-20 Homecoming win against Tennessee Tech on Saturday at O'Brien Field. Wickliffe had three tackles and one sack during the game.

Blake Nash, Staff Reporter

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The Eastern defense not only forced seven turnovers in Saturday’s homecoming game. The Panthers also intercepted Tennessee Tech quarterback, Jared Davis’, first three pass attempts, which led to a 51-20 victory.

Defensive back Bradley Dewberry picked off Davis on the first play from scrimmage, and the Panthers’ offense capitalized with a five-yard touchdown run by redshirt senior Shepard Little. The second drive for Tennessee Tech was a mirror image of the first, as junior linebacker Seth McDonald intercepted Davis on the first play of that drive.

Sophomore kicker Nick Bruno followed that with a 30-yard field goal to give Eastern a 10-0 lead, just over five minutes into the game. Those would be the only points the Panthers offense could muster in the first half, even after a 33-yard interception return by senior linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill.

It was different story in the second half, as Eastern’s offense put up 34 points, and improved the Panthers’ Ohio Valley Conference record to 4-0.

“I was really frustrated that we had turnovers but weren’t getting points,” Eastern coach Kim Dameron said. “It really felt like we left a lot of points on the field in the first half. But I liked the way we came out in the second half, and we did some good things in the third quarter.”

Little and red-shirt junior running back Devin Church each scored on a rushing touchdown in the first half, to make it a 31-13 ball game, but a defensive player’s dash for the end zone, provided what could have been the best score of the day. After all it’s not every day that a defensive tackle scores a touchdown.

Red-shirt junior transfer Jarvis Williams found a surprise when he bulled his way into the Tennessee Tech backfield. An errant pass, which was forced by senior defensive back Anthony Goodman, was snatched out of the air by the 270 pound defensive tackle and it was off to the races, or in this case the end zone.

Williams returned it 24 yards for his first ever touchdown.

“It was great. It was a surprise. It was a dream come true,” Williams said. “It was my first touchdown in anything, including Pop Warner, high school and college.”

One teammate that was excited for Williams’ moment was red-shirt senior safety Jourdan Wickliffe, who also had an interception on Saturday.

“I was more excited for his touchdown than my interception,” Wickliffe said. “That’s rare to see a defensive lineman get in a pick six. That was big.”

Big can describe what it’s been like for Wickliffe these last two weeks. Aside from today’s interception, three tackles and a sack, Wickliffe helped preserve last week’s overtime win at Tennessee State, when he intercepted a pass to end the game.

Wickliffe said that it’s been a blessing to be back on the field and playing at this level, after being banged up earlier in the season.

His interception came off of Davis, who was returning after suffering a broken hand four weeks ago. He struggled throughout the day, throwing four interceptions in the loss.

“They struggled with their quarterback position, and they have for the last four weeks,” Dameron said. “I’m sure they’re extremely frustrated on their end, but we’re happy as heck on our end because when they threw it to us we caught it.”

Throughout the game, it was announced that No. 1 ranked Jacksonville State will be coming to Charleston on November 7. But to make that a battle of unbeaten OVC teams, both will have to do their part next week to make that happen.

“We’re still one week at a time, and one practice at a time,” Wickliffe said.

Eastern will face Murray State 1 p.m. next week on the road. Williams said that the Panthers feel they’re ready to play anybody right now.

“We feel like we can play with anybody, as long as we execute like we should,” Williams said.

 

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