Panthers staying focused on games ahead

Sean Hastings, Sports Editor

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On Sept. 16 against Illinois State, the Eastern football team’s offense put together the worst performance coach Kim Dameron had seen in over 30 years of coaching college football.

One week and 68 plays on offense later, the Panthers are 1-0 in Ohio Valley Conference games following a 19-16 win over Southeast Missouri, having them focused on the future and forgetting about the worst offensive performance their head coach had seen in three decades.

The 1-2 start in non-conference games is in the rearview mirror and all that matters now is the 1-0 start in the OVC—the record that will matter for an OVC title.

Dameron did not think they had much confidence they could beat Northern and Illinois State, and he does not know why.

“Once we got past those three weeks, we said ‘we’re in conference play,’ and we went to work and these kids really worked hard this past week,” he said.

If there was a lack of confidence in those two weeks, it is gone now, especially having to make a quarterback switch and turning to a redshirt freshman.

Scotty Gilkey Jr. played with confidence and it showed throughout the game. Gilkey Jr. threw deep passes, ran the ball up the gut, and did not fear the defense looking to light him up, making them work to take down his 6 foot 4, 235 lbs. frame. Not your average quarterback.

Eastern’s offense and team could not afford to have another let-down week now that the games mean more, and Dameron was pleased with the entire offense.

“I was pleased with the amount of confidence the offensive players had in (Gilkey Jr.),” he said. “They didn’t go into this game saying ‘oh gosh,’ they went into this game saying ‘we know what Scotty can do and he’ll compete. Let’s all go compete with him and let’s make sure we step our game up.”

From top to bottom the Panthers’ offense was night and day compared to the Northern and Illinois State games. The offensive line protected Gilkey Jr., the run game broke out for 230 yards, the receivers were making catches—and some tough ones at that and Eastern turned the ball over just once.

The turnover came as Gilkey Jr. was breaking off a 29-yard run and did not protect the ball enough and it was punched out from behind by Southeast Missouri’s Omar Pierre-Louis and recovered by Mike Ford.

Heading into the game redshirt junior wide receiver Aaron Gooch said the offense needed to get on one accord.

If putting behind those first three games helped Eastern focus on Southeast Missouri, maybe putting this win behind it and focusing on its first road OVC game against Tennessee State is a good idea.

The Tennessee State Tigers are 3-1 overall, opened OVC play with a big loss to Tennessee-Martin 31-16 Saturday.

Jacksonville State did not play an OVC game on Saturday, but Eastern was among four teams that opened OVC play with a win.

After the slow start the Panthers had to the season overall, grabbing that first win was key and has them in a good position moving forward.

Austin Peay and Easrtern Kentucky were among the four teams that won on Saturday as well.

Last year for the Panthers, they won their OVC opener against Austin Peay 56-35, but lost to Southeast Missouri the following weeek.

As long as Eastern plays the way they did last week against the Redhawks this week, they should be 2-0

Like Gooch said, having the Panthers’ entire offense on the same accord played a key role in the win.

The week before, against Illinois State, Dameron said he was scared the redshirt senior quarterback Mitch Kimble and Gilkey Jr. were “going to get killed.”

Both quarterbacks were hit regularly when the dropped back to pass. And when they did have time, Gooch admitted the receivers had a bust.

Time for Eastern to stay consistent.

Sean Hastings can be reached at 

581-2812 or [email protected]