‘Playoffs’ begin Saturday for Panther football team


Bryan Bund

Redshirt senior running back Devin Church runs a play during the Panthers' 35-34 win against Tennessee State Saturday, Oct. 8, at O'Brien Field. The Panthers will take on Tennessee-Martin at 1 p.m. Saturday.

Sean Hastings, Sports Editor

The FCS Playoffs may be a few weeks away, but for the Eastern football team the playoffs started after the Panthers lost to Southeast Missouri five weeks ago.

Redshirt senior safety Pono Choy said as long as the Panthers can stay sound on defense and play the way they know how to, Eastern can shut down the Tennessee-Martin offense.

Saturday’s game will be the final home game for the Panthers in 2016. Eastern is 2-2 at a home with wins coming against Tennessee State and Austin Peay.

The Panthers’ losses came against Western and Murray State.

Eastern is still ranked in the top 25 in the FCS and could still make the playoffs, but before Eastern wins two in a row, they have to beat 4-1 Tennessee-Martin.

Even though Eastern still has its game against Eastern Kentucky regardless of how Saturday’s game turns out, it still plays a larger factor.

“We’re already in the ‘playoffs,’” Choy said. “It’s win or go home.”

Choy has been a big threat on the Eastern defense that has been a shutdown defense at times, but Choy knows what needs to be done this week to pick up a much-needed win.

Coach Kim Dameron’s main statement throughout the year has been execution. Even coming off games the Panthers win, he and the rest of the team look for better execution in every aspect.

“We got to execute our defense,” Choy said. “Stop the big plays. I think that’s the biggest thing that we’re having trouble with over the last four to five games.”

Last week, Eastern had to go up against Jacksonville State and its strong running attack, and this week the Panthers will go up against a Tennessee-Martin offense that likes to come out in different formations.

Another key to this game is the Panthers trying to force a turnover. The Panthers have not forced a turnover in back-to-back games.

Offensively for the Panthers, they struggled last week against Jacksonville State, but on the positive side, the offense has not struggled like that much at all this season.

Redshirt junior quarterback Mitch Kimble has been injured in back-to-back games against Murray State and Jacksonville State, but he is expected to make the start this weekend.

And Dameron expects the Tennessee-Martin defense to ‘get after’ the Panthers’ offense.

“They’re a little bit unconventional so that’s a bit of a challenge,” he said. “We just know that they’re going to come in here and they’re going to play extremely hard; they’re going to be smart, they’re going to be very well coached and that’s the thing we have to do.”

“We have to get back to that mindset we were earlier in the season that we’re the ones doing the smart things and we’re the ones that are most physical.”

And the Panthers are not the only ones battling for a playoff spot.

Tennessee-Martin is also looking to get in and is in must-win situations in these last couple games.

Both teams are playing for their playoff lives, but for Dameron and the team, it is nothing different.

The Panthers take on Tennessee-Martin 1 p.m. Saturday at O’Brien Field.

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