Football team host Colonels in crucial matchup


Jason Howell

Senior quarterback Jalen Whitlow threw six passes for 55 yards and rushed 81 yards during the Panthers’ 24-3 loss to Jacksonville State on Nov. 7 at O’Brien Field.

Blake Nash, Sports Editor

The Eastern football team has reached its last game of the season, but it may not be the last one.

The Panthers host their Senior Day against No. 23 ranked Eastern Kentucky on Senior Day, where the winner will be in the running for an at-large bid in the FCS playoffs.

At the beginning of the season, a sports technology company called STATS expanded its coverage of college football. The creation of a rankings poll was created with the expansion.

Charles Haley, the senior editor of STATS, gave his opinion about what the future will hold for both teams Saturday.

“I believe the EKU-EIU winner will get an at-large bid, but the loser won’t with five losses,” Haley said.

Both teams have lost four games apiece, while three of the Panthers’ four losses came in non-conference play. Eastern went on a six-game winning streak after the first three losses before losing to No. 1 Jacksonville State at home.

The Panthers rebounded last week for a 23-21 victory at Tennessee-Martin, making them the only one-loss team in the Ohio Valley Conference.

“To be able to go down on the road and get that one at Martin, spoke a lot about what this team is made of,” Eastern coach Kim Dameron said. “We’ve got a lot to play for Saturday because it is Senior Day and a chance to play for a playoff berth.”

Eastern was without All-OVC linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill at Tennessee-Martin, with red-shirt sophomore Nick Horne getting the starting nod. Horne picked up four tackles, giving him 16 for the season.

“I know it is hurting Kamu that he is hurt. It is hurting me too,” Horne said. “Getting the win Saturday is going to mean as much to him as it is going to be for me.”

Grugier-Hill will be one of 16 seniors honored on Saturday, which includes nine defensive players. The Panthers still have one of the OVC’s top defenses especially in passing situations. Eastern has held opponents to 200.7 passing yards per game and a 49.4 completion percentage.

For the third-straight week they will meet one of the conference’s top offensive units. The Colonels are third in the OVC in scoring offense with 35.3 points per game.

They are led by quarterback Bennie Coney, who averages 311.9 passing yards each game. Eastern faced the top two offenses the last two weeks, in Jacksonville State and Tennessee-Martin.

The Colonels also have the No. 2 rushing defense in the OVC, which includes defensive lineman Noah Spence, a transfer from Ohio State. Spence has totaled 56 tackles this year, including 22.5 for loss.  Eastern Kentucky has held its opponents to 110 rushing yards per game.

The Panthers have rushed for 200 yards per game this year, which ranks second in the OVC. Only Jacksonville State, with 289 yards, has more rushing yards than the Panthers.

Senior quarterback Jalen Whitlow led the Panthers’ ground attack with 142 yards last week. Whitlow said that when he is scrambling to avoid pressure that making a decision to throw it or tuck it and run, takes an instant.

“It takes a split second sometimes because everything happens fast out there,” Whitlow said. “The receivers can get covered fast, and you’ve got to make quick decisions about whether to throw it, go to your next read or run it.”

Dameron said that because of the leadership of Whitlow and the other veteran players, the Panthers have been able to keep their composure every week, no matter what the outcome of the game is.

“We have kind of kept a level head even though we went on a winning streak, and then had the one loss,” Dameron said. “The leadership of the older players has been good, and I hope that we have a good crowd for these seniors that put so much into this program”

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


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