Panthers to open delayed season Sunday


File Photo | The Daily Eastern News

Eastern wide receiver Isaiah Hill turns upfield on a 73-yard catch and run in a game against Southeast Missouri on Nov. 16, 2019. Hill had 13 catches for 152 yards and a touchdown in the game, which Eastern lost 26-12.

Adam Tumino, Editor-in-Chief

It has been nearly 15 months since the Eastern football team took the field for a game.

This virus-extended offseason will end Sunday at 1 p.m. when the Panthers travel to play Tennessee-Martin in the season opener for both teams.

Eastern head coach Adam Cushing is in his second season leading the Panthers, and said that both he and the team are ready for football to finally return.

“You can feel (the excitement) with the team, especially pre-practice today,” he said. “We did a game week already, but actual game week and knowing that game day is only four days away, it’s what these guys have worked their tails off for since November of 2019.”

Also feeling the excitement for the game is redshirt-senior safety Raymond Crittenden.

“It’s very exciting. It’s like Christmas day,” Crittenden said. “With the weather, it all fits. It’s like a gift. We’re very blessed to be able to play football again.”

As far as the actual game goes, Eastern fell to the Skyhawks 27-18 in their matchup last season.

The Panthers went 1-11 overall and 1-7 in conference while Tennessee-Martin went 6-2 in conference with an overall record of 7-5.

Crittenden played a major role in the game against the Skyhawks in 2019, recording a touchdown on a 51-yard fumble recovery.

He said that the goal defensively on Sunday is to keep things consistent from last season.

“We’re going to do the same things,” he said. “Run to the ball, 11 men to the ball every play. That’s all that matters. We’ve got a lot of young guys that are going to have to play their first games and get those jitters out, but once we get there, get that first series out, we’ll have a great game.”

Cushing also commented on the role younger players will play on Sunday and throughout the season.

“We have a great, great freshman class, and so we’re pretty excited about what they’re going to contribute to the football team,” he said. “They’re going to get their first taste of college football, you know you step out onto that stage and they’re going to have some failure they haven’t had before, but that’s all part of it.”

The game Sunday will be the first of seven, conference-only games for the Panthers during the COVID-altered season. The games are also all going to take place on Sunday afternoons instead of the typical Saturday.


Adam Tumino can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]