Column: Defense struggles in Panthers’ first OVC win

Maher Kawash, Football Reporter

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Devin Church breaks a tackle against Austin Peay at O'Brien Field. Church had 139 rushing yards in the game with one touchdown.

Bryan Bund
Devin Church breaks a tackle against Austin Peay at O’Brien Field. Church had 139 rushing yards in the game with one touchdown.

Defense has been a crucial anchor for the Eastern football team this season, but that was nowhere near the case Saturday afternoon.

After knocking off a FBS opponent and a top-five FCS team, the Panthers went into their first Ohio Valley Conference matchup swimming in confidence.

That confidence would only increase as the team prepared to face a winless Austin Peay squad to open the conference slate.

Well it was no joyride, but Eastern got the job done in the end.

The Panthers struggled to contain the Governors’ offense throughout the game but still concluded to a 56-35 victory. Allowing 35 points to a winless team was never the game plan, though.

Despite Eastern’s typical identity as a defensive team, the Panthers found another way to come out on top in this one.

And that would be thanks to the offense.

Eastern’s 56 points and 641 yards of total offense led the way to mask a struggling defensive performance.

But it was not all bad for the Panthers. In fact, the numbers do not tell the whole story.

Eastern may have given up 35 points and 370 yards of total offense, but the defense still came up in the moments it mattered most.

Red-shirt junior Nick Horne had a seemingly game-changing interception in the fourth quarter to stunt the Governors’ offense.

Horne’s interception came after Austin Peay had cut the deficit to seven and recovered an onside-kick.

The interception not only stopped the Governors from tying the game, but it also led to another score for the Panthers.

From there, it was Eastern’s game to lose as they continued to score while the defense tightened up in the final quarter to earn the win.

It was not pretty, but every win at this level is important.

“I’ll never take a conference victory for granted, because they are darn hard to come by,” Eastern coach Kim Dameron said.

While the Panthers did come out on top, Dameron said the team needs to improve defensively on third down.

Eastern allowed the Governors to convert nine of their 16 third-down attempts and also went 1-for-2 on fourth down.

“We couldn’t get off the field on third down, and we continue to struggle with third down defense,” Dameron said.

With that being said, the Panthers still came out with three turnovers in the game to lead the way.

Eastern will hit the practice field over the next few days before returning to action against another conference-foe. The Panthers and their defense have a chance to rebound Saturday afternoon against Southeast Missouri State.

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