Panthers pull away from Racers 34-20


Jason Howell

Red-shirt junior wide receiver James Brooks rushed 17 yards and received 21 yards for one touchdown during the Panthers’ 51-20 Homecoming win against Tennessee Tech on Oct. 24 at O’Brien Field. Brooks rushed for nine yards and recieved for 33 during the Panthers’ 34-20 win against Murray State on Saturday.

Blake Nash, Staff Reporter

Six seconds. That’s the only amount of time the Eastern football team trailed during Saturday’s 34-20 win at Murray State. Murray State defensive back Marquez Sanford intercepted a Jalen Whitlow pass and returned it 26 yards for the first score of the game.

But following a 94 yard kickoff return by red-shirt freshman Tray Mitchell, the Panthers led the entire game until the end, and walked out of Racer Field with a 5-0 record in the Ohio Valley Conference. But there will be two unbeaten OVC teams at O’Brien Field next Saturday.

No. 1 ranked Jacksonville State defeated Eastern Kentucky 34-0 Saturday, in a battle of two OVC unbeaten and ranked teams. Eastern will face the Gamecocks at 1 p.m.

“We’re happy to be where we are, in a situation where we haven’t lost a conference game,” Eastern coach Kim Dameron said. “But we can’t look up at who it is we’re playing, or wherever it is. We just got to continue being the best us we can be.”

The stat sheet shows that Eastern was at its best on rushing plays. The Panthers rushed for a total of 175 yards, 117 of which came from the power running of red-shirt senior Shepard Little. On a 3rd and three with two minutes left in the game, Little found a gap the line and broke several tackles on a 40 yard touchdown run.

That touchdown sewed up the game for the Panthers, who held the Racers to 81 rushing yards on 28 carries. A pair of defensive backs led the Panthers in tackles. Red-shirt senior safety Jourdan Wickliffe and sophomore Bradley Dewberry totaled 11 and nine tackles, respectively.

Junior linebacker Seth McDonald and red-shirt senior Dino Fanti finished with seven and six tackles, respectively. Four of Fanti’s tackles resulted in lost yardage for Murray State, but it propelled Fanti into Eastern football history.

Fanti broke the school record for tackles for loss in a career, which was set by Pete Catan in 1980. Catan had 45 tackles for a loss in his career.

“He’s a disruptor and makes a lot of plays, even though he’s not real big,” Dameron said. He brings a whole lot to the table.”

Fanti also had two sacks, as did senior linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill. The Panthers held the Racers’ offense scoreless on 12 consecutive drives until late in the fourth quarter when Murray State quarterback KD Humphries found wide receiver Jesse Blackburn for their second touchdown of the game.

Humphries and senior Eastern quarterback Jalen Whitlow both are from Montgomery, Al., and the two have remained in touch since including this past week. Whitlow completed 18-of-27 passes for 236 yards and a touchdown to junior tight end Ben Odugbesan.

Odugbesan had only made three catches this season, but he matched that total on Saturday, catching three passes for 80 yards. The Racers blown coverage allowed Odugbesan to race 80 yards to the end zone for his first touchdown as a Panther.

Murray State wide receiver Paul Rice led the Racers receiving core with seven catches for 136 yards. His quarterback Humphries completed 28-of-51 passes for 346 yards, which is just shy of his season average of 367.4 per game.

The next three games for the Panthers feature three teams that have a combined two losses in Football Championship Subdivision play this season. Only Jacksonville State, next week’s opponent, has gone unbeaten in FCS games.

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