Defense, discipline stand out in Panthers’ win

Maher Kawash, Football Reporter

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Redshirt junior quarterback Mitch Kimble makes his way into the endzone for the Panthers' first score of the game against Tennessee State at O'Brien Field. Eastern won, 35-34.

Bryan Bund
Redshirt junior quarterback Mitch Kimble makes his way into the endzone for the Panthers’ first score of the game against Tennessee State at O’Brien Field. Eastern won, 35-34.

Numbers never lie in football, but sometimes in the end all that matters is the outcome of the game.

That was the case for Eastern Saturday night as the team took on an undefeated conference-foe in Tennessee State.

The 35-34 score line may give one the impression that both defenses struggled throughout, but in reality, that was not the case.

Along with allowing the 34 points, the Panthers’ defense gave up 379 yards of total offense.

That number stands out, but most of it came through the air and on a couple of deep pass plays.

Eastern allowed two passing touchdowns of 40-plus yards in the second half, and that evidently kept the game close.

But as they have stressed all season long, senior linebacker Seth McDonald said the Panthers could bend but not break.

McDonald and the rest of the team believe they can give up any amount of yards, but in the end, the score is the only thing that matters.

“A couple big plays did the trick for them, but we stopped them on first and second down,” McDonald said. “If we take some of those little things away, then we play a complete game.”

Yardage was not enough to take down the Panthers, but penalties almost were.

Eastern has averaged about eight penalties per game this season, and that number may have increased because of Saturday’s game.

“The penalties — those self-inflicted wounds — are things, you know, that we haven’t had a lot of those for the year,” Eastern coach Kim Dameron said. “And for us to have that many in this game was really frustrating.”

The Panthers were plagued by 10 total penalties against the Tigers, and one of them proved to be most costly.

Eastern came out of the half leading 21-13, and one of the biggest drives of the game came in the third quarter.

Tennessee State drove down the field and was threatening to score in the red zone, until the Panthers stepped up on defense to force fourth down.

But right before Eastern was going to hold the Tigers to just a field goal on that drive, the team jumped offside to give Tennessee State a fresh set of downs.

It did not take long after that for the Tigers to march it into the end zone for six, and close the deficit to just one.

“That was frustrating because we should have held them to three,” McDonald said. “That’s just a mental error, so we have to take away those little things.”

The shootout began following that drive as both teams lit up the scoreboard for a classic college football game.

Although that penalty almost cost the Panthers the game, McDonald was still satisfied with his defense’s performance.

“Defensively, we just kind of had a chip on our shoulder,” McDonald said. “We just wanted to play our best football, and I think we did.”

Regardless of the stats, Eastern was able to bounce back from its loss to Southeast Missouri State and did so with some injuries on the defensive side.

Starting cornerback DySaun Smith was held out of the game Saturday because of an injury, and the Panthers had to start two redshirt freshmen because of it.

But even with the younger guys starting, Dameron was satisfied with his team’s performance.

“Their youth showed up a bit at times, but I was really proud with the way they competed,” Dameron said.

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