The Eastern football team is still undefeated in Ohio Valley Conference play and it comes after yet another last second victory.
As the Panthers’ special teams leaped passed the line to block Murray State’s potential game-tying field goal in double overtime, they notched a 27-24 win and a 4-0 record in conference play.
It came after a pretty well-rounded performance from Eastern, despite some shaky play from Bud Martin under center, but it was still enough to get the Panthers by.
Unfortunately, that luck may run out when Jacksonville State comes to town Saturday fresh off its 27th straight OVC win.
There is no doubt the Panthers will be underdogs Saturday despite sitting atop the conference right now, but there is also plenty to be happy about for this team.
Yes, Eastern has gotten lucky with all of these last second victories, but if the Panthers are consistently closing out these games is it really just luck?
The coaches and players would beg to differ and the stats in these last four wins can actually back them up.
The Panthers are playing well enough in the first three quarters of a football game to give them a chance to win, and eventually playing their best in the final moments of each game.
In this case, it kind of served as the opposite with Eastern holding a sizeable lead early against Murray State before watching the Racers come back to tie things up.
Eastern’s 21-7 lead heading into the fourth seemed like enough to improve to their fourth straight win, but 14 unanswered points from Murray State sent the game into overtime.
Once again, the Panthers prevailed with a solid defensive effort to limit Murray State to two field goal attempts, one of which was, of course, blocked.
What makes the difference heading into this matchup against ranked Jacksonville State is how well Eastern’s run game is coming along.
We already knew how well this Panther defense can perform at times, and heading into the game against Murray State, Eastern coach Kim Dameron knew the Racers would attack his linebackers the most.
It did not matter, as they held their own while doing just enough to not need first-time starter Bud Martin to do too much.
But what is most impressive of the newfound run game is how successful it is, despite the rotating door that has been at quarterback.
While Bud Martin has done just enough to keep the Panthers afloat through injuries to Mitch Kimble and Scotty Gilkey Jr., it also is not the best set up against opponents to maintain a run game.
That did not stop Eastern from rushing for 351 yards against Murray State, as well as finding all three of their touchdowns on the ground.
That balance in the run game is something that can go a long way against a team like Jacksonville State, especially since the Panthers will want to keep their defense off the field as much as possible in that one.
The only question remains under center as Martin’s three interceptions were bailed out from the run game and defense, and that may just have to continue if Eastern wants to impress its homecoming crowd Saturday afternoon.
Maher Kawash can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]