Panthers to start OVC play with Austin Peay matchup

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Panthers to start OVC play with Austin Peay matchup

Red-shirt senior running back Devin Church rushes past Illinois State defenders Saturday at Hancock Stadium. Church picked up a touchdown rushing 76 yards on 15 attempts in the 24-21 victory over the Redbirds.

Red-shirt senior running back Devin Church rushes past Illinois State defenders Saturday at Hancock Stadium. Church picked up a touchdown rushing 76 yards on 15 attempts in the 24-21 victory over the Redbirds.

Justin Brown

Red-shirt senior running back Devin Church rushes past Illinois State defenders Saturday at Hancock Stadium. Church picked up a touchdown rushing 76 yards on 15 attempts in the 24-21 victory over the Redbirds.

Justin Brown

Justin Brown

Red-shirt senior running back Devin Church rushes past Illinois State defenders Saturday at Hancock Stadium. Church picked up a touchdown rushing 76 yards on 15 attempts in the 24-21 victory over the Redbirds.

Sean Hastings, Sports Editor

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A season opening loss, a big FBS win and a win against a top 25 FCS opponent was something to talk about. The key word there is “was.” As far as the Eastern football team is concerned, the Panthers are back to 0-0 with OVC play starting.

For the last three weeks, the Eastern football team has taken on non-conference opponents, and the Panthers faired pretty well, but Ohio Valley Conference play is a new season, red-shirt senior running back Devin Church said.

“We’ve got to get back to getting on this win streak,” Church said. “Going 1-0 this first week is going to be a great start, and we just got to finish strong.”

Church said going into last week’s game that one big run could help pick up the struggling running game, and that may have happened since he broke off a 30-yard touchdown run.

“The run definitely felt good,” Church said. “I definitely feel like the running backs and the O-Line can get it going on the run game.”

The Panthers will welcome in Austin Peay to open their conference schedule for Family Weekend. It may be easy to look over a team like Austin Peay based on Eastern’s success against the Governors in recent years, but that is something coach Kim Dameron is making sure the team does not do.

For any team in the OVC, the conference championship is what the players go for, and a strong start is what the Panthers will need if they plan on getting the ring.

“Now it’s time for the real season; now it’s time for the OVC,” Dameron said. “The preseason is over; we’re happy about how it turned out, but this is what it’s all about.”

A big part of the Panthers’ success is the way their defense has held up against the tough competition, which is something Dameron preaches to his team.

The Panthers gave up 443 yards to the Redbirds, but that number can be a bit deceiving because Illinois State’s quarterback broke off a 58-yard run for a touchdown, and the Redbirds put together a 67-yard drive with under two minutes remaining.

Red-shirt junior linebacker Nick Horne said after the game the way they handled the end of the game needs to get better, but one thing they focus on is that they can bend, but not break.

Senior linebacker Seth McDonald thinks the same way.

 

“They can get all the yards they want, but we just have to keep them out of the end zone,” McDonald said.

Going into Illinois State, the Panthers were fresh off a win against FBS opponent Miami of Ohio and now they have back-to-back wins against good teams, so McDonald said it will be important not to get to focused on those wins.

McDonald is a senior leader for the Panthers’ defense this year and the team in general. He said even though they are ranked No. 16 in the FCS, any team can win on any day.

Even though McDonald said they will need to remain humble, he said he and the rest of the team is excited to get OVC play started.

“We’ve been talking about an OVC championship since the summer,” McDonald said.

The Panthers and Governors will get underway Saturday at 1 p.m. at O’Brien Field.

Sean Hastings can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]