“Playoffs” begin Saturday for Eastern

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“Playoffs” begin Saturday for Eastern

Junior running back Isaiah Johnson takes a handoff to the left side in the Panthers’ 24-23 win over Tennessee Tech Oct. 7 at O’Brien Field. Eastern is on the road this week at Tennessee-Martin.

Junior running back Isaiah Johnson takes a handoff to the left side in the Panthers’ 24-23 win over Tennessee Tech Oct. 7 at O’Brien Field. Eastern is on the road this week at Tennessee-Martin.

Sean Hastings

Junior running back Isaiah Johnson takes a handoff to the left side in the Panthers’ 24-23 win over Tennessee Tech Oct. 7 at O’Brien Field. Eastern is on the road this week at Tennessee-Martin.

Sean Hastings

Sean Hastings

Junior running back Isaiah Johnson takes a handoff to the left side in the Panthers’ 24-23 win over Tennessee Tech Oct. 7 at O’Brien Field. Eastern is on the road this week at Tennessee-Martin.

Sean Hastings, Sports Editor

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The Panthers are in the same position as last year— starting the “playoffs” four weeks early, with three games left on their schedule.

Eastern’s “first round game” is against Tennessee-Martin Saturday on the road. Following their loss last week to Jacksonville State, the Panthers are in survival mode to get to the real playoffs.

One loss and the Panthers could almost kiss a playoff berth goodbye. And while Tennessee-Martin may only be 1-3 in conference games, it is now the biggest and most important game the Panthers are going to play this season.

The Panthers showed signs of a playoff-caliber team last week in the first half against the Gamecocks, but the second half showed a team that would miss the playoffs.

“We’re in the playoffs already,” Dameron said, following the loss to Jacksonville State. “We lose, we go home. I think we’re probably going to have to get to eight (wins) with the way that the rest of brackets are and the conferences. If we get to eight, I think we’ll be in. Seven, we put ourselves in jeopardy.”

The Panthers ended up missing the playoffs last season after making it the year before after winning their last two games of the season in 2015.

The Skyhawks won their season opener against Tennessee State 31-16, but went on to lose three in a row to a turned-around Austin Peay team, Murray State and Eastern Kentucky.

Eastern plays both Austin Peay and Eastern Kentucky in the next four weeks. Eastern’s bye week is Nov. 11.

The Panthers beat Murray State on a blocked field goal in double overtime.

Two of those three losses for Tennessee-Martin came by one score.

Keys for Eastern this week:

Coach Dameron said the Panthers played their best half of football in the first half against Jacksonville State last week. The plays they ran were clean, they executed and made smart decisions.

He called it a tail of two halves, as it all fell apart for Eastern. It made bad decisions, such as an interception into the howling wind that was at O’Brien Field that day.

And Tennessee-Martin is no Jacksonville State, but by no means can Eastern look past the Skyhawks. Like Dameron said, if the Panthers lose “they go home.”

“I think everyone in the league knows how good Martin is,” Dameron said. “They’re very well coached, they are athletic defensively, they do not give much at all, they smother your run and game and do not let you throw anything behind them. It should be a heck of a matchup.”

The Panthers are 2-2 against Tennessee-Martin over Dameron’s tenure at Eastern.

Two weeks ago Eastern ran for over 300 yards against Murray State. Last Saturday, Eastern could not even crack the 100 mark. One of the problems there was Eastern could not get a big run, Dameron said.

Redshirt junior quarterback Bud Martin loves to throw the deep ball and he has shown it and has done well with it at times, but last week he got too “deep happy,” as Dameron put it, so getting back to their fundamentals will be key.

“We always are looking at what we can do better and what we can improve from the last week,” Dameron said. “We have to continue to get better at every position, quarterback being one of them and receivers running routes and being where they’re supposed to be and being there on time. There’s a lot of things that go into that.”

Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. at Tennessee-Martin.

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