Homecoming loss drops Panthers to No. 22 in FCS Poll


Bryan Bund

Redshirt senior running back Devin Church waits on a block from sophomore offensive lineman Grant Branch Saturday at O’Brien Field.

Sean Hastings, Sports Editor

After a loss to 1-5 Murray State, the once No. 15-ranked Panthers have almost slipped all the way out of the top 25 in the FCS.

The start Eastern had Saturday was arguably the best it has had all season, but that went down the drain fairly quickly as the 21 points Eastern scored in the first quarter were all they would get until the third quarter.

And now as they barely hang on to a top-25 spot, the Panthers will hit the road to take on the No. 2 ranked Jacksonville State Gamecocks Saturday. For the Panthers, the thought of a conference title may very well be in the rear-view mirror.

Jacksonville State does not seem able to lose, especially in OVC play. The Gamecocks have won 20-straight OVC contests.

A loss to Jacksonville State could very well knock the Panthers out of the top 25, but being such a strong team in the FCS, it may not hurt the Panthers as much as the loss to a 1-5 team did, but it will not help them.

Eastern sits at 5-3 overall after Saturday’s loss, strength of schedule seems to be how they were able to grab the No. 22 spot and not something much lower. Two of the three teams behind the Panthers have better overall records.

Harvard is 5-1 and Lehigh is 6-2 overall. South Dakota made its way into the top-25 for the first time since 2011 following a 27-24 win over Illinois State.

The Coyotes have used a three-game win streak to make their way into the FCS top 25. South Dakota earned a pair of wins over FCS opponents Northern Iowa and Indiana State.

Indiana State is not in the hunt of a top 25 FCS spot, but Northern Iowa received 12 votes this week.

The obvious thing that stood out for Eastern Saturday was its six turnovers and a way to fix that for its contest with Jacksonville State is to find out who turned it over, as well as why and how it was turned over.

Murray State was a 1-5 team that has obviously struggled and can be called mediocre compared to a couple of the teams Eastern has been able to beat this year, which is why the Panthers only lost by two points with six turnovers.

Now against a 6-1 team like Jacksonville State, any turnover may be enough for the Gamecocks to take a win on its Homecoming against the Panthers.

The Gamecocks have one of the best dual threat quarterbacks in the OVC in Eli Jenkins. He can run the ball effectively, the quarterback is just behind Eastern’s redshirt running back Devin Church in rushing yards.

Jenkins has 633 rushing yards on 106 attempts. Church has 769 on 146 attempts. Jenkins can also throw the ball, but Eastern’s redshirt quarterback Mitch Kimble has done more throwing the ball in less games.

Needless to say, this may be the biggest game of the season for Eastern.

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