Eastern aiming to win for seniors in finale


Adam Tumino | The Daily Eastern News

Eastern freshman quarterback Jonah O’Brien rolls out to escape the Southeast Missouri pass rush during the Panthers’ 26-12 loss Nov. 16 at O’Brien Field. O’Brien was 12-21 passing for 84 yards and an interception in his first game at the collegiate level.

JJ Bullock, Editor-In-Chief

Things did not go how the Eastern football team (1-10, 1-6 OVC) wanted them to go in head coach Adam Cushing’s first season at the helm of the program.

The Panthers, of course, would have liked more things to go their way during the season; perhaps one less turnover against Indiana State, one less fumble against Murray State, one more stop against Jacksonville State. Yes, looking back on a season one game from completion, and one might find plenty that the Panthers could dwell on.

But Eastern is not dwelling on anything as it heads into its final game against the OVC’s first-place team Austin Peay (8-3, 6-1 OVC) on Saturday. The Panthers want to win on Saturday, and they want to do it for the senior class whose final season was far from storybook.

Cushing said what he wants to see from his team is a full effort for the graduating class.

“I really just think it’s our guys’ best effort consistently for the seniors, this group of seniors,” Cushing said. “I said earlier in the week, and I probably said it on Saturday after the last game, ‘This group of seniors was thrown a huge curveball in what they were hoping was going to be their best and their last season, and their reaction to it has really been phenomenal.’”

Saturday, no matter the outcome, will be the final chapter in the senior Panthers’ careers at Eastern. There will be no postseason, no more practice, no more team meetings, no more mandatory workouts.

Cushing said the team is obviously aware this will be the last game of their careers but said he is not quite certain it has totally sunk in with the seniors that this is really it.

“Males especially don’t do a great job of processing sometimes, you know, when those emotions are on their way,” Cushing said. “But we have been talking about it, and I have been saying to the seniors they just need to trust me that every minute of this week will be etched in their mind forever, every detail, every time that they step between the white lines, every time that they’re playing catch with their buddies.”

Cushing added:

“I don’t think the team has really processed that this group of guys isn’t going to be there next time we meet as a team, that that group of seniors isn’t going to be sitting in their appropriate seats in the team room,” he said.

But there is a game coming on Saturday, and the finale of Eastern’s season just happens to come against the conference’s best team, that with a win could clinch an OVC championship: Austin Peay.

“(Austin Peay is) really good at running the ball and defending the run; I think they are the best in the country at defending the run,” Cushing said. “And man, they have done a phenomenal job; coach came in and had a great idea of what his system was going to be, and you know quite frankly had a lot of good football players that have bought in.”

Austin Peay leads the conference in points per game (35.4) and is second in points allowed (22.2). The Governors are the second lead team in rushing in the OVC and by far the best team at stopping the run, allowing just 78.5 rushing yards per game.

The team Eastern will play on Saturday could be the Panthers’ toughest test since week two when they played Indiana on the road.

But none of that seems to matter right now for the Panthers; they are focused on themselves and focused on beating whomever stands in their way of sending off their graduating class in the way they feel is deserved.

Eastern and Austin Peay kick off at 2 p.m. in Clarksville, Tennessee.


JJ Bullock can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]