Panthers win conference opener 28-14

Eastern+quarterback+Otto+Kuhns+hands+the+ball+off+to+running+back+Harrison+Bey-Buie+in+a+game+against+Illinois+State+on+Sept.+18+at+OBrien+Field.+Bey-Buie+ran+for+46+yards+and+a+touchdown+in+the+game%2C+which+Eastern+lost+31-24.

Adam Tumino | The Daily Eastern News

Eastern quarterback Otto Kuhns hands the ball off to running back Harrison Bey-Buie in a game against Illinois State on Sept. 18 at O’Brien Field. Bey-Buie ran for 46 yards and a touchdown in the game, which Eastern lost 31-24.

Autumn Schulz, Assistant Sports Editor

The Eastern fight song could be heard loud and clear from Tucker Stadium on Saturday afternoon after the Eastern football team secured their first win of the season with a 28-14 road victory over Tennessee Tech. 

The Panthers, now 1-0 in the OVC, forced four Tennessee Tech turnovers on Saturday afternoon to put themselves in the win column. The most vital turnover for the Panthers arguably came with about ten minutes left in the fourth quarter as Tennessee Tech was determined to get a game-tying touchdown as Eastern led 21-14.  

However, a scramble inside the 10-yard line caused Golden Eagles quarterback Drew Martin to lose the ball, allowing Panther safety Bryce Drewberry to recover the ball and run it back for a school record of 90-yards for the touchdown, putting the Panthers up 28-14.  

Head coach Adam Cushing said that the effort of the team caused the small moments in the game to go their way.  

“When you play as hard as you possibly can for as long as you possibly can, the bounces go your way and our guys played with maximum effort today,” he said. “It wasn’t pretty, but the ball finds you and good things happen. Obviously, we we’re talking about all the preparations, but it’s nice just to have Bryce make a play for us.”  

Golden Eagles quarterback Drew Martin was 26-of-38 against the Panthers, passing for 315 yards with 1 touchdown and 1 interception.  

The Golden Eagles built a 7-0 lead late in the first quarter until the Panthers defense came alive in the second quarter to give the offense great field position, causing them to score two touchdowns. 

It started with punter Logen Neidhardt pinning Tennessee Tech inside the ten-yard line on a 42-yard punt, followed up by Bryce Drewberry with a big play on third down that forced the Golden Eagles to punt from their one-yard line.  

Quarterback Otto Kuhns would then connect with freshman wide receiver DeAirious Smith on a 7-yard pass with 6 minutes left in the second quarter, cutting the lead 7-6. 

With just a little over 1 minute to play in the first half, freshman safety Kaelin Drakeford picked off a Golden Eagle pass, allowing Kuhns to connect with Smith once again on a 16-yard touchdown pass to put the Panthers in the lead with 16 seconds left. 

The Panthers would then successfully go for the two-point conversion after Kuhns found wide receiver DeWayne Cooks, giving the Panthers a 14-7 lead at halftime.  

Cushing said that the performance of the defense against Tennessee Tech was what made the difference of the game.  

“That was the difference of the football game if you ask me. Our d-line was in the backfield, cause that kid is a good quarterback,” he said. “He’s going to win a lot of football games here at Tennessee Tech, but our defensive line was getting in his face and making him make rushed decisions and that’s what happens, it’s all about the quarterback.” 

Sophomore linebacker Jason Johnson and freshman defensive end Jordan Miles had good days, with Johnson leading the defense with 16 tackles and Miles putting up 4 tackles with 3sacks. 

Miles said that the defensive line was able to perform well against Tennessee Tech because of the energy and focus in practice. 

“It really started back with practice, upcoming to this game we really just focused on pressures and the energy,” he said. “In past games we had a little energy but not as high as we could, and this really just drove us to getting to the QB.” 

Offensively, the Panthers were led by Kuhns and wide receiver Smith.  

Kuhns was 15-of-26 on the day, passing for 183 yards with two touchdowns. Smith finished the day with 6 catches for 109 yards. 

The Panthers rushed for 121 yards in the game with freshman running back Harrison Bey-Buie leading the way with 79 yards on 19 carries. 

Cushing said he is proud of Smith for taking advantage of his opportunity to show what he can do for the team. 

“That’s what it is all about and that’s what a great team does,” he said. “Guys just pick each other up and then when you’ve got the guys that have been sitting in the back and learning and just waiting for their chance and still practicing hard, when you get your chance, you have to take advantage of it. I am so proud of DeAirious because it hasn’t been a yellow brick road for him, but he showed what he is capable of today and I am excited to see him be one percent better next week.”   

The Panthers will take on fellow OVC member Murray State on Oct. 2 at Roy Stewart Stadium. Cushing said that all they want to do is play their best game next week. 

“The bottom line is that in about twenty-four hours from now we are back at zero and zero for the week, that’s all that ever matters,” he said. “It’s just taking a step and be playing our best game next week. That’s all we want to do is play our best game next week.” 

 

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