Column: Panthers find small improvements in first win

Maher Kawash, Staff Reporter

After rushing for 102 yards and allowing 38 points to Western Illinois, the Eastern football team answered back in a special way defeating Miami of Ohio 21-17 on Saturday.

Not only did the Panthers knock off a FBS opponent for the sixth time in program history, but the team also saw both sides of the ball improve immensely from week one.

Eastern topped Miami Ohio by averaging 4.1 yards per carry as well as 142 total rushing yards in the game.

While those aren’t eye-popping numbers, Eastern coach Kim Dameron said improving the run game was important heading into the matchup with Miami.

The best Panther rusher on the night was not an expected candidate.

Eastern starting quarterback Mitch Kimble averaged 4.9 yards per carry and a total of 49 yards from 10 attempts on the ground in the game.

The rest of the Panthers run game was anchored by senior Devin Church and redshirt junior Korliss Marshall, the duo combined for 77 yards on 22 rushes.

There is clearly still room for improvement for a team that has always leaned on its run game, but it’s no easy task to rack up 142 yards against a FBS team.

It is also important to mention that Eastern was trailing 17-7 through three quarters and was forced to rely on its passing game in order to complete the comeback.

Kimble led the Panthers by airing it out and scoring 14 unanswered points, but it was Eastern’s defense that proved to be the difference.

The Panthers not only held Miami to just seven points in the second half, but they also limited the Redhawks to 3.5 yards per carry on the ground.

When a team is trailing, stopping the run game is one of the most important aspects of completing the comeback.

Eastern also came up in a big way by not leaving its defense on the field for long late in the game.

The Redhawks final three drives of the game were all less than four minutes, and resulting in no points.

The Panthers took advantage of a missed field goal in the fourth from Miami and were able to cut the deficit because of it.

The improvement on defense led to a win in the game and a mental win for the team as a whole.

After allowing 38 points to the Leathernecks a week ago, the Panthers responded by dominating field position and time of possession.

After the loss to Western, Dameron said leaving the defense on the field too long hurt his team, and the Panthers showed otherwise this past weekend.

That hard-nose defense and run game will need to continue to improve as Eastern now turns its focus to next week.

The Panthers have a tough task ahead of them as it is about that time for the Mid-America Classic with Illinois State.

Eastern is hitting the road this time around after hosting the Redbirds last year and coming up just short.

The Panthers defense allowed 34 points in that overtime loss, so they try to flip the script Saturday afternoon.

Maher Kawash can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]