A few weeks ago, teams across the Ohio Valley Conference were looking up at the Eastern football team.
Now, not so much.
The Panthers strung off four straight wins by three points or less to claim first in the OVC, but then preseason-favorite Jacksonville State came along to derail that ship quickly.
Since that loss to the Gamecocks, things have not gotten easier for Eastern as their offensive struggles produced just 10 points on the road in a 17-point loss to Tennessee-Martin.
With two straight losses in the books, the Panthers have a tough but not impossible task ahead of them as they try to clinch a postseason berth.
“When we make mistakes with the football, it gets exasperated quickly because we’re not the most explosive offense right now,” Eastern coach Kim Dameron said. “If we win the turnover battle we win the game”
They start that journey with their final home game of the season against Eastern Kentucky Saturday, followed by the regular season finale at Austin Peay Nov. 18.
When it comes to the OVC standings, those two opponents are right there with the Panthers and Jacksonville State at the top.
Eastern Kentucky comes to Charleston with a 3-3 record in the conference as well as two more losses outside the OVC.
The Colonels come in on an opposite streak of the Panthers, as they have won their last two games and have done so by double-digits in each one.
While both teams may have a harder chance at making the playoffs, due to other national contenders, Saturday’s game will still have some implications on the conference.
Eastern follows this game with a bye before seeing Austin Peay in the final week, as Eastern Kentucky plays the Governors next week.
Austin Peay awaits the winner with its 4-1 record in the OVC, but will have to get past Tennessee Tech first this weekend.
That may not be too difficult of a task though as Tennessee Tech is tied for last in the conference with a 1-4 record, with their only win coming against the other last place team, Tennessee State.
The Golden Eagles 30-26 win last weekend pushes them to 1-7 on the year, but that does not mean they have gone down easily.
Tennessee Tech has played some of the best teams in the OVC pretty well as Eastern barely escaped them earlier this season with a one-point win.
Eastern Kentucky also had its struggles against the Golden Eagles, surviving with a three-point victory.
The rest of the OVC has been somewhat average as no other teams have a record at .500 or above.
Tennessee-Martin, fresh off its win against the Panthers, boasts a 2-3 record and is tied with Southeast Missouri.
Murray State, Tennessee State, and Tennessee Tech all follow in at the bottom of the conference with just three wins combined.
Just a few weeks remain in the regular season and unless someone can end Jacksonville State’s 28 game winning streak against OVC opponents, then it may be a similar ending for all teams involved.
But that will not change the atmosphere surrounding the Panthers to close the season.
“The attitude of our football team is excellent and it has been all year,” Dameron said.
Maher Kawash can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]