Eastern football team loses game, playoff chance


Justin Brown

Redshirt sophomore Jared Pilson looks for an opening Saturday during Eastern's 33-17 loss to Tennessee-Martin at O'Brien Field. Pilson completed 1-of-2 pass attempts for a 10-yard touchdown and rushed for 21-yards.

Sean Hastings, Sports Editor

The energy was just as high as the stakes in the game, but the seven turnovers and amount of penalties piled higher and ultimately cost Eastern the game and a chance to make it back to the FCS playoffs for a second year in a row.

Eastern’s season all but came to an end following a 33-17 loss to the Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks Saturday at O’Brien Field.

Following three wins in a row against Miami of Ohio, Illinois State and Ohio Valley Conference opener Austin Peay, the Panthers lost to Southeast Missouri, and things started to snowball from there.

The team that beat an FBS opponent and a No. 5 FCS opponent, sadly, was almost nowhere to be found again.

The Panthers still showed spurts of greatness in the following games, picking up wins against Tennessee State and Tennessee Tech, but now they have three losses in a row to Murray State, Jacksonville State and Tennessee-Martin.

In the Panthers’ last two home games against Murray State and Tennessee-Martin, Eastern has turned the ball over 13 times.

And on Saturday, both teams had sloppy starts. Tennessee-Martin fumbled on its first drive; Eastern followed that up with a fumble on its first drive, Tennessee-Martin scored, redshirt junior quarterback Austin Green threw an interception and then junior safety Bradley Dewberry had an interception on the Skyhawks’ following drive.

The difference was that the Skyhawks cleaned up their mistakes for the most part, and Eastern did not. And the Panthers helped Tennessee-Martin out by racking up nine penalties for 85 yards.

“Total lack of discipline,” coach Kim Dameron said. “That showed its head here in the last few weeks actually. More so than ever since I’ve been here so that’s something we will definitely address in the offseason.”

Dameron said that kind of un-discipline happens in the offseason.

The biggest turnover was possibly when redshirt senior running back Devin Church, who has been so good at hanging onto the football, fumbled at the 10-yard line as the Panthers were about to score to take the lead.

Eastern led for a short time 7-6, because of the missed extra point by Tennessee-Martin’s kicker Mitch Mersman, so when Eastern went back down 13-7, a touchdown could have given them a 14-13 lead with 1:28 left in the first half.

Redshirt junior wide receiver Addison Bounds caught the Panthers’ first touchdown pass from redshirt sophomore quarterback Jared Pilson in the first quarter, and he and Dameron said having the discipline is a decision a player has to make.

“The personal fouls is a mind thing,” Bounds said. “Coach says it’s a decision you have to make, and you have to be able to keep your head in situations like that. People could hit you or whatever, but you just can’t reply; you can’t be the second person.”

He added that with the turnovers, you have to make a conscious effort that when you touch the ball you cannot turn the ball over and let it go.

“The ball is a key to the game,” he said.

Maybe part of the reason was not having redshirt junior quarterback Mitch Kimble in the game as he was out with an ankle injury, but overall, Eastern struggled to get the train moving throughout the game.

Like Dameron said, the turnover by Church in the red zone was a key moment in the game, and it set Eastern back a bit.

“I never really felt like we had a lot going, just a rhythm,” Dameron said. “And feel like we were really gaining some confidence.”

For the Panthers, they still have one more game this regular season in two weeks at Eastern Kentucky, and that game will not decide anything other than if Eastern will be a team with a winning record or a losing record.

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