Football team facing perfect opportunity for turnaround

Maher Kawash, Football Reporter

It is family weekend, the first home game of the season, and time for one of the biggest in-state rivalries.

There is no better time or opportunity than Saturday afternoon for the Eastern football team to gain momentum and take off with its season.

The Panthers host No. 14 ranked Illinois State at O’Brien Field this weekend, and there is no doubt the atmosphere will be just right for an upset to please the home crowd.

After the 28-point blowout Eastern received from Northern Illinois University a week ago, it also comes at a desperate time for the team to turn it around.

Yes, it is still early into the season as this is just week three, but the last thing this team wants to do is head into next week’s conference-opener with two losses.

If history can repeat itself, the Panthers will be in great shape considering how they traveled to Illinois State last year and pulled off the upset.

But there is also a bad side to Eastern’s history in home openers as the Panthers have dropped their last three including a 34-31 loss to the Redbirds in 2015.

Luckily for Eastern, the team still is pretty similar to the one that knocked off ISU a year ago, and there is no question that Mitch Kimble plays a vital role in that.

Kimble may be coming off a week of three turnovers, but in his career he has never been one to consistently turn the ball over.

While Eastern hopes that results in a clean game against the Redbirds, it is also important to mention how the Panthers performed on their home turf a year ago.

The Panthers actually played better on the road as they won just two of three games at O’Brien last year as Western Illinois, Murray State, and Tennessee-Martin all knocked off Eastern.

That will have to change this time around as those last two home losses could be said to be the biggest last year.

Murray State came into the Panthers house on homecoming weekend and escaped with a 40-38 win, and with family weekend arriving that cannot happen again.

Family weekend is always one of the biggest games as far as attendance, and the Panthers have a solid chance to not only build momentum for the rest of the season but to also send the crowd roaring.

Eastern was up and down last year when coming off a loss the week before as their first loss a year ago was followed by three straight wins.

If that were to happen again, the Panthers would be set up well to not only dominate conference play, but go on the road with more confidence.

Maher Kawash can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]