Panthers start conference play strong

Sean Hastings, Sports Editor

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Two weeks ago, after the Panthers lost to Illinois State, it seemed like the season might be spiraling out of control.

Since then, redshirt freshman quarterback Scotty Gilkey Jr. has got the offense back on track and the defense has continued to be the anchor of Eastern’s team.

And in these past two weeks, Eastern has won two Ohio Valley Conference games, where both games came down to one final play.

Against Southeast Missouri, senior Bradley Dewberry had an interception in the end zone to secure a 19-16 win and against Tennessee State Saturday, Gilkey Jr. put his body on the line diving over the pile, getting hit in the air, helicoptering his body and landing in the end zone for a game-winning touchdown for a 19-16 win.

While the offense has started to see more production, the defense has been what has been keeping the Panthers close in these games.

Gilkey Jr. takes a beating rushing the ball the way he does and has turned into the leading rusher and Panthers’ leader in touchdown. But he has said he is going to run when they need it and if they need him to throw, he is going to do it.

Coach Kim Dameron has praised the way defensive coordinator Cary Fowler and the rest of the defensive staff has prepared the defense for its past two games.

“Our defense is really coming on and getting better and better,” Dameron said. “And if we can stay healthy, we’ll continue to get better and we’re going to be hard to deal with because we’ve got some guys that understand what we’re doing now. They’re a fun group to watch.”

Senior Nick Horne leads the team with 32 tackles and redshirt senior Tray Mitchell is right behind him with 31.

Dameron admitted that the Panthers need to do a better job of rushing the passer on the line, but have done a good job of stopping the run.

“That’s where it all starts,” he said. “We’ll continue to put pressure on the quarterbacks, but (Treon Harris) was ridiculous with how good he is as far as alluding tacklers and making yards out of the pocket.”

The offense is scoring, but it has not helped out the defense as much as the Panthers hope it can. It has come a long way since its 14-yard half and 117-total yard game against Illinois State.

The past two games, where the Panthers won, they had 372 yards against Southeast Missouri and 278 against Tennessee State.

Dameron wants more execution.

“There’s no secret, we have to get better, we have to execute better, we have to play better at every spot,” he said.

Eastern hosts Tennessee Tech Saturday, shooting to go 3-0 to start OVC play and remain a top team in the conference. The Golden Eagles are 0-5 overall and 0-2 in conference.

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