Football team turning corner at right time

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Football team turning corner at right time

Eastern football coach Kim Dameron leads the Panthers out of the tunnel prior to their game with Tennessee Tech. Eastern won 24-23.

Eastern football coach Kim Dameron leads the Panthers out of the tunnel prior to their game with Tennessee Tech. Eastern won 24-23.

Sean Hastings

Eastern football coach Kim Dameron leads the Panthers out of the tunnel prior to their game with Tennessee Tech. Eastern won 24-23.

Sean Hastings

Sean Hastings

Eastern football coach Kim Dameron leads the Panthers out of the tunnel prior to their game with Tennessee Tech. Eastern won 24-23.

Sean Hastings, Sports Editor

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It has not been perfect, or how the Eastern football team expected it, but the Panthers are finding answers and finding them at the right time— even if it is in an unorthodox way.

Last year’s demise started when the Panthers lost quarterback Mitch Kimble to a list of injuries and failed to find consistency playing with Austin Green at quarterback.

Fast-forward to 2017 and déjà vu.

Eastern lost Kimble once again to a shoulder and back injury in the third game of the season and had to call upon back up quarterback Scotty Gilkey Jr., a redshirt freshman who had not played a down of college football as a starter.

Gilkey Jr. saw some playing time in a blowout loss to Northern Illinois.

The result? Back-to-back Ohio Valley Conference wins, including one in double overtime.

Coming into the 2017 season, finding consistency and success behind Kimble was the plan. He was near the top in all major quarterback statistics in 2016, even though he missed four games.

Eastern won its opener against Indiana State, but had two letdowns against Northern Illinois and Illinois State.

After non-conference play, Eastern turned a corner and this time with Gilkey Jr. leading the offense.

That corner was turned at the right time before OVC play.

Two wins in two OVC games, Eastern finding answers to its offensive woes and Gilkey Jr. showing more signs of being a well-groomed Division I starting quarterback, the corner seems to being completely turned.

Saturday against Tennessee Tech, Eastern once again needed to find an answer and fast.

The problem this time: Tennessee Tech knowing what Eastern was going to do on offense. Gilkey Jr. rushing the ball, which proved to be so efficient in the first two OVC games against Southeast Missouri and Tennessee State.

With the combination of a struggling offense, trailing 14-3 and a “banged up” Gilkey Jr., the Panthers needed to find another answer.

“We probably played as poor of a half of football offensively and defensively in the first half,” coach Kim Dameron said. “I told our kids at halftime we’re darn lucky that we’re only down 14-3.”

Dameron said he felt like if they ever got it together, they’d come back and win the game.

Cue Bud Martin.

“We decided to go with Bud and put him out there and let him throw the ball because (Tennessee Tech) was not making any bones about the fact that they were going to stop the runs. We unleashed (Dennis Turner) and (Alexander Hollins) and he was able to take advantage of them,” Dameron said.

Martin came into the second half of Saturday’s contest with Tennessee Tech and threw three touchdowns to junior receiver Alexander Hollins to come back and win 24-23.

Martin and Hollins both said after the game that he loves to throw the deep ball, saying that it is a joke around the team, and Martin did just that in the second half.

Martin was the team’s third-string quarterback on the Panthers’ roster at the start of the season, but he led them to a key conference win to get the Panthers to 3-0.

From having to turn to Gilkey Jr., the backup quarterback, then Martin, the third string and winning nail-biter games, Eastern is still 3-0 and the top team in the conference— whether these answers have been orthodox or not.

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