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Eastern with big test at Murray State

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Junior running back Isaiah Johnson rushes in a touchdown against Indiana State Aug. 31 in Terre Haute. Eastern will head to Murray State on Saturday.

Junior running back Isaiah Johnson rushes in a touchdown against Indiana State Aug. 31 in Terre Haute. Eastern will head to Murray State on Saturday.

Justin Brown

Justin Brown

Junior running back Isaiah Johnson rushes in a touchdown against Indiana State Aug. 31 in Terre Haute. Eastern will head to Murray State on Saturday.

Sean Hastings, Sports Editor

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Redshirt junior Bud Martin will be the third Eastern quarterback to make a start this season as injuries have plagued redshirt senior Mitch Kimble and redshirt freshman Scotty Gilkey Jr.

Gilkey Jr. was injured in the first half of the Panthers’ 24-23 win over Tennessee Tech last Saturday and did not practice Wednesday.

Head coach Kim Dameron said he hopes to see what Gilkey Jr. can do Thursday and have him on the trip to Murray State.

“We’re hoping that he’ll be able to make the trip and dress out and maybe be a viable option,” Dameron said.

Gilkey Jr. brings a different look to defenses with his ability to run the ball and take quarterback draws.

The Panthers are going to start with Martin, who had a big second half leading Eastern to a win last week.

This week has been Martin’s first time approaching a game as a starting quarterback in an Eastern uniform. And after last week’s 204-yard, three-touchdown performance in the second half,  he showed what he can do.

“He’s seemed real focused,” Dameron said. “He’s tried to have two really good days (of practice). He has a few things to iron, just timing and different things like that, but I thought he’s focus has been really good.”

Dameron said he would not expect anything less from Martin.

Martin played in last year’s game against Murray State.

He was 7-for-14 passing, which included a 38-yard connection with sophomore running back Darshon McCullough.

Eastern ended up losing the game 40-38 and had to use three quarterbacks that day, as Kimble went down near the end of the second half in the midst of a 200-yard passing performance that led to two touchdowns.

McCullough and junior running back Isaiah Johnson will play a vital role in this week’s game against the Racers to keep help out Martin.

“(Having a good run game) is always important,” Dameron said. “We’ll probably lean on them quite heavy in the run game. But we’ll run our offense no matter which (quarterback) we have.”

McCullough rushed for 86 yards last week with a 76-yard run, the longest of the season.

The run continued to build McCullough’s confidence.

“Every play, each touchdown, just builds more confidence and momentum,” he said. “I just wish I never got caught.”

While the offense has been a whirlwind of emotions so far this season, but is finding its way, the defense has kept the Panthers alive and well.

Last week Eastern’s defense let up two touchdowns on Tennessee Techs’ first two drives, which was the flattest Eastern’s defense has looked in OVC play.

The defense buckled down and those were the only touchdowns it let up in the game.

Dameron said it came down to players trying to do other player’s jobs.

“If we’ll get our guys up front to be able to play the run or put pressure on the passer we’ll keep our guys from in the back end of giving up chunks of yardage on big plays,” Dameron said. “Our linebackers are key in the fact, especially in (Murray State’s) type of offense and they’re going to really test our linebackers to tackle in the open field.”

Kickoff is set for 3 p.m. at Murray State on Saturday.

Sean Hastings can be reached at 581-2812 or smhastings@eiu.edu

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Eastern with big test at Murray State