Football team can’t sustain performance in loss


Jason Howell

Jason Howell | The Daily Eastern News Red-shirt junior Devin Church ran for 84 yards and was on the receving end of a single six-yard pass during the Panthers’ 24-3 loss to Jacksonville State on Saturday at O’Brien Field. This was the football team’s first conference loss and are now 5-1 in the OVC and 5-4 overall.

Blake Nash, Staff Reporter

For three quarters on Saturday, the Eastern football team was deadlocked at three with the No. 1 ranked team in the country Jacksonville State. But in a span of four minutes and 12 seconds, the Gamecocks secured a 24-3 lead, and won by that margin.

The Gamecocks remain unbeaten in Ohio Valley Conference games, while the Panthers suffered their first OVC loss to move to 5-4 on the season. All five wins have come in OVC matchups.

Eastern coach Kim Dameron said that he thought that the Eastern defense played inspired, but that the offense’s inability to stay on the field longer; resulted in the outcome. Dameron also said that he was disappointed in the special teams unit. Both of those units did not perform as well as they were in the last month.

“It’s just hard to sustain that when you’re not holding the ball offensively,” Dameron said. “I was probably as upset as upset as anything about our punt team and kickoff return, and stuff like that. We’ve got some work to do in those two areas for sure.”

Red-shirt freshman wide receiver Tray Mitchell served as the Panthers kick returner, and returned four kickoffs for a total of 47 yards. Red-shirt senior running back Shepard Little only got the chance to return one punt, but it was for a loss of three yards.

Punter Mike Bernier punted six times, and booted a 50 yarder during the game. He averaged 42.3 yards per punt. Sophomore kicker Nick Bruno converted on the Panthers’ only red zone chance with a 23-yard field goal early in the second quarter. That 3-0 lead would be the only time the Panthers led the Gamecocks.

The Panthers’ defense held the Gamecocks to 225 yards of total offense. Linebackers Kamu Grugier-Hill and Seth McDonald constantly blitzed Jacksonville State Quarterback Eli Jenkins throughout the game.

Both players combined for a total of 28 tackles, with McDonald leading with 17. Eastern kept the Gamecocks out of the end zone until the third quarter when Jenkins hit wide receiver Justin Screws in the back of the end zone, for a 43-yard touchdown. Three minutes in to the fourth quarter, running back Troymaine Pope extended the lead to 17-3, on a 10-yard touchdown run.

Senior quarterback Jalen Whitlow threw a pick six on the first play of the next series to Jacksonville State linebacker Dawson Wells.

As frustrating as it was for the Eastern defense late, Grugier-Hill said that the Panthers defense can only control the way they play.

“There’s nothing you can do about it because we can only control what we can,” Grugier-Hill said. “We’ve just got to get better, and there’s nothing else to it.”

Dameron gave credit to the Gamecocks defense, which is the best in the OVC, for playing a great game. He said that he thought the running game, which was led by red-shirt junior Devin Church’s 84 yards, was effective early. However the Panthers didn’t fare well on third downs, which eventually took its toll.

“We’ve got to do better than 3-of-14 on third down and 0-for-3 on fourth,” Dameron said. “That’s one of the six areas that we always talk about that we need to do to win.”

Red-shirt senior running back Shepard Little rushed for 81 yards on three carries. Eastern totaled 175 yards of rushing offense, but only 64 passing.

McDonald admitted that he believed that he left a few mistakes on the field, especially late in the game.

“There were a couple of drives in the third quarter where I got a little tired,” McDonald said. “You just got to keep pushing, and keep fighting for each other.”

McDonald said that he plans on fighting for Grugier-Hill and the other seniors in the final two games of the season, the first of which will be at Tennessee-Martin next Saturday. Dameron said that the Panthers need to continue playing for a postseason berth, but it’ll be challenging against a powerful offense that the Skyhawks have.

“They’ve scored points on everybody this year, so we’ve got to do a great job for us to have any chance to continue later on in postseason,” Dameron said.


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