Column: Panther football season still very much alive

Sean Hastings, Sports Editor

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Time is running slim, but do not count out the Eastern football team of making its way to its second-straight FCS playoff appearance.

The Panthers may have back-to-back Ohio Valley Conference losses, but they are still ranked in the top 25 in the nation in the FCS Coaches Poll. With the talent the team has showcased this season, a playoff appearance is possible, and a playoff run can be too if they do what they have done in their big wins this season.

When trying to see if the Panthers should or should not make the playoffs, the games where they showed they are a top team in the FCS should be looked at before the bad losses.

When Eastern beat the Illinois State Redbirds, it sent them on such a fast downward spiral where Illinois State is no longer in the top 25 in the FCS. The Redbirds were No. 5 when the Panthers went into Hancock Stadium and beat them, 24-21.

And when the Panthers are on, they are on. When redshirt senior running back Devin Church is feeling good, he runs all over opposing defenses. He is also used as one of Eastern’s top receivers.

Church has had three 100-plus rushing yard games this season, including a season-high of 155-yards against Murray State. His receiving also showcases some staggering numbers. He leads the Panthers in receiving yards with 345, and his six touchdowns are also good enough to lead the team.

Needless to say, when Church gets going, it will be hard to beat the Panthers. It is hard to beat them when redshirt junior quarterback Mitch Kimble has Church to throw to when he wants, and he also has four to five more targets he can hit as well.

That is another story this season: the quarterback situation with Kimble. He has been dominant in games this season, and when he is in, it has sometimes been smooth sailing for the Eastern offense.

He dealt with an injury early in the season that was sustained near the end of the third quarter against the Redbirds, and redshirt junior Austin Green took over the reins of the offense.

Kimble has a 58.9 completion percentage and has thrown 13 touchdowns in his first season of action as a Panther. He has two games this season with over 300 passing yards and also threw for 200 yards against Murray State before having to leave with yet another injury.

Also, when Green is in, Eastern has had some success, but at times, Eastern’s offense struggles to get going. Green has at times shown he has what it takes to be a starting quarterback, and when he was the starter for two games this season, coach Kim Dameron was confident in Green to get the job done.

Having two quarterbacks ready to go at all times has been a big thing for Dameron this season, and for the most part it has paid off.

When Kimble is on, he not only can find Church or any of his other targets when he is looking for them, but if he cannot find one of his receivers, he has had no issues taking off and running the ball himself.

Kimble has two rushing touchdowns to go with 139 rushing yards this season.

Looking at Eastern defensively, if a couple things are fixed there, it can be hard to move the ball on the defense led by senior linebacker Seth McDonald.

It has happened more than once where Eastern has given up a big play for a score, but it is something that McDonald and the rest of the defense have said that they can clean up.

McDonald leads the team with 86 tackles this season, and redshirt senior defensive lineman Jarvis Williams leads the team with 5.5 sacks.

Tennessee-Martin will be a tough task Saturday for Eastern, but if the Panthers get by the Skyhawks, a win at Eastern Kentucky is very possible, which will make a postseason berth possible as well.

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