Eastern traveling to Indiana State to open season

Sean Hastings, Sports Editor

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For the past three seasons, the Eastern football team has lost its season opener.

The Panthers played Western the last two years and hurt themselves by turning the ball over. Eastern lost to Big 10 opponent Minnesota, a game that Eastern coach Kim Dameron said the Panthers played better in.

“Both of our games against Western Illinois we’ve turned the football over,” Dameron said. “We’ve moved it, but we turned it over and we’ve given up big plays on defense.”

Eastern has not played Indiana State in a decade, and Dameron said there are three things the Panthers have to do to win the opener Thursday night in Terre Haute.

Eastern cannot let up big plays on defense like it had in the past two seasons, has to stop turning the ball over and stop making early mistakes such as penalties, Dameron said.

Putting last year and the previous season-opening losses behind them, redshirt senior quarterback Mitch Kimble said he and the Panthers are feeling good for this year.

“We’re excited,” Kimble said. “It’s crazy it’s already here. Last year we haven’t really had a good start so this year we’re really trying to come out fast, execute, and hopefully get the win.”

Kimble has sophomore running back Darshon McCullough lining up behind him in the backfield, with redshirt junior Aaron Gooch and senior Dennis Turner as two of the receivers.

But a few new faces to the Panther offense include redshirt junior Nick Atoyebi, redshirt freshman Robbie Lofton and redshirt junior Javon Turner. The trio did not see any time last season.

Kimble said the offense is running smoothly and everyone is starting to connect.

Both Dameron and Kimble were happy with how spring ball and preseason training went as well.

“I think they’re going to be good,” Kimble said. “We’ve got some special guys out there. We’ve got some talent at wide receivers and we’ve got some new running backs too. I think they’re going to be special players.”

McCullough has some big shoes to fill in replacing Devin Church, but Kimble said him and the other running backs are fitting in well and will have to be ready when their number is called.

Although Eastern lost a few of its leaders to graduation last year with linebacker Seth McDonald and Church graduating, he said there is something even more special about this year’s group.

Kimble, senior safety Bradley Dewberry, redshirt senior tight end Addison Bounds, redshirt senior safety Tray Mitchell and senior center Louis Vailopa are the captains for the Panthers this season.

“We’re excited about the leadership and the overall attitude about the football team,” Dameron said.

Indiana State brings back Isaac Harker, who won the starting quarterback job, so Eastern gets a little bit of a look at him even though they did not play the Sycamores last year.

Dameron said they have seen that he can run for yards a little bit as well as scramble.

Indiana State’s entire coaching staff was revamped in the offseason with Curt Mallory taking the reigns of the football program. The Mallory name is a popular name among football coaches.

His dad, Bill, is the winningest coach in Indiana University history and has two brothers, Doug and Mike, with assistant coaching gigs for the Atlanta Falcons and the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. ET and 6 p.m. CT.

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