Panthers prepared for conference opener


Adam Tumino | The Daily Eastern News

Eastern head coach Adam Cushing (center) talks with the officials during a timeout in the game against Illinois State on Sept. 18 at O’Brien Field. Eastern lost the game 31-24 to the Redbirds in the 109th Mid-America Classic.

Autumn Schulz, Assistant Sports Editor

After a thrilling home opener against the Redbirds last weekend, the Eastern football team will be opening up conference play against Tennessee Tech with an abundance of confidence on their side, according to head coach Adam Cushing.   

“It’s all about confidence, that truly is the name of the game,” he said. “It’s always the chicken and the egg, success or confidence, which one comes first. Obviously, we didn’t get in the win column, but I think the guys are pretty confident, they saw what they were capable of over the first four weeks. I know it’s a team we beat but they are still a good football team but when you get to zero and zero, everyone’s got a chance.”  

Tennessee Tech was the only team that the Eastern football team recorded a win over during the spring season. Since then, the Golden Eagles have been shutout in its last two losses, falling 0-3 on the season.  

Offensively, the Golden Eagles are led by quarterback Davis Shanley, who is 30-of-65, passing for 252 yards on the season with one touchdown.  

Running back Quinton Cross leads the Golden Eagles with 167 all-purpose yards, averaging 60.7 yards per game.   

Defensively, redshirt sophomore defensive back Josh Reliford has 27 tackles on the season, averaging 9 tackles a game.  

The Golden Eagles are currently allowing 44.7 points per game and are passing for 134.7 yards per game. 

Cushing said that focusing on protecting the football in practice will give the Panthers a chance to soar over the Golden Eagles this weekend. 

“We had our best week, there’s a reason why we played pretty decent this past Saturday, we had our best week of practice last week,” he said. “The message is we have to exactly that, just one percent better. We focused a lot on football, and we are going to continue that because if we take the ball away and protect it, we have a chance to win the game.”  

The Eastern football team is 3-2 when opening conference play against Tennessee Tech. The last conference opening meeting between the teams was in 2019, with a 40-29 Golden Eagles victory.  

The Panthers’ pass defense limited Illinois State to just 54 passing yards during the Mid-America Classic last weekend, earning them a sixth-place ranking in the FCS in passing defense, allowing 115 yards per game. 

Freshman safety Jordan Vincent leads the team with 29 tackles, five of those tackles were against Illinois State last weekend. Vincent ranks 38th in the FCS in solo tackles.   

Offensively, the Eastern football team hope to push quarterback Otto Kuhns to a new career record for passing yards on Saturday.  

Otto Kuhns is approaching the 1,000-yard passing mark for his career going up against Tennessee Tech this weekend. Kuhns currently sits at 990 career yards and has passed for 481 yards this season, in comparison to throwing for 509 yards during four games in the spring. 

Cushing said that Otto is earning the “dangerous player” title because he is putting together both aspects of his game.   

“You talked about confidence and that is something that Otto has inherently,” he said. “He believes in himself and his ability, to him there is never a dead play. He is going to fight and scratch and claw until the whistle blows every single play and I think the other part that the offense starts to understand is that there is never a dead play when Otto has got the ball in his hands. He makes so many great plays off script and now all of a sudden, he is putting together both aspects of his game, he’s a pretty dangerous player.”  

Kickoff will be at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday.  


Autumn Schulz can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]