Football team to play No. 11 UT-Chattanooga in home opener


Rob Le Cates

Eastern Head Football Coach Chris Wilkerson encourages Redshirt Sophomore Quarterback Jonah O’Brien after scoring a touchdown in the third quarter of the season opener against Northern Illinois University at Huskies Stadium Thursday night. The Panthers lost 34-27 against the Huskies.

Autumn Schulz, Sports Editor

The Wilkerson era is coming to Charleston as the Eastern football team will have its home opener against No. 11 UT-Chattanooga on Saturday at 6 p.m. 

The Panthers are coming off their season opener against defending Mid-American Conference Champions, Northern Illinois, which they dropped 34-27. 

Despite the loss, the 27 points scored by the Panthers were the most in a season opener since 2013. There were many players that stepped up against the Huskies, one of whom was junior kicker Stone Galloway. 

Galloway was named the Ohio Valley Conference Special Teams Player of the Week as he was 2-for-2 on field goal attempts. He also added three extra points, accounting for nine of the Panthers’ 27 points.  

Galloway said that he is not going to let the recognition affect his focus. 

“It feels pretty good. Definitely an honor but I’m just trying to not let it get to my head and keep doing what I’m doing,” Galloway said.  

Redshirt senior Markenzy Pierre led the rushing game for the Panthers against the Huskies as he rushed for 100 yards on 14 carries. Defensively, the Panthers were led by linebacker Elijawah Tolbert with 11 tackles. 

Tolbert said that the team attempts to not let statistics affect how they perform in the game.  

“We don’t really pay attention too much to rankings. We just try to focus on what we got to do. We got to handle as a team to stay up as a team, don’t let numbers affect us,” Tolbert said. 

Starting quarterback Jonah O’Brien passed for 276 yards against the Huskies, which were the most by a Panther quarterback in a season opener since 2016.  

Wilkerson said that O’Brien’s performance was inspiring for the Panthers’ offense. 

“Well, he’s certainly showed some flashes of greatness as we had seen by all three quarterbacks during spring practice and preseason. He has earned the right to certainly start here in the next football game and I’m looking forward to watching him improve,” Wilkerson said. “He showed some amazing courage to stand in the pocket and deliver the ball downfield at times. I know there was one pass that I think he wishes he had back, was just a little bit inaccurate in that one throw, but he had a pretty substantial body of work that we are very encouraged by.” 

The Mocs are coming off a 6-5 season with a 5-3 record in the Southern Conference. They opened their season last weekend with a 31-0 win over Wofford, earning them the 11th spot in the FCS Coaches Poll.  

The Mocs are led defensibly by senior linebacker Devonnsha Maxwell who was named preseason Defensive Player of the Year. Their offense is primarily run through junior running back Ailym Ford. Ford rushed for 156 yards and two touchdowns during their season opener. 

Galloway said that the mentality of the change has not been affected just because the Mocs are nationally ranked.  

“I mean, for us, we’re extremely excited. I don’t think the mentality has changed. I think we’re just gonna do exactly what we know how to do,” Galloway said. “Play the game as it should be played and play how we’re gonna play. I don’t think we’re going into it scared. When we went and played NIU we had the same mentality. Just because they were an FBS team doesn’t mean anything, just another football team. We’re ready and we’re excited.” 

Wilkerson said that the Panthers need to not stray away from doing what they know how in order to succeed Saturday evening.  

“We’re just trying to be ourselves, that’s the most important thing because we played Thursday it was nice to able to give the guys Saturday and Sunday off, and then pick up and extra day on Monday here to prepare for UTC,” Wilkerson said. “It’s just trying to stay within our routine and trying to improve as we continue to grow as a football team every single week. We’ll give ourselves opportunities to be successful and the results will take care of themselves.” 

Wilkerson will return to O’Brien Field as a coach for the first time in about 20 years. The last time he was on the field as coach and player was under Bob Spoo. Wilkerson said that the one man he knows will be watching him and the Panthers march onto the field Saturday evening is Spoo. 

“The whole experience has been an honor and privilege every day to lead this football program. To be home has been an amazing experience and surreal and certainly leading the guys on the field last Thursday was something I’ll never forget,” Wilkerson said. “Just coming onto the field for the first time but you know, taking the field here is going to be even just a bit more special. I know that there’s a lot of friends and former players and former coaches and colleagues that have made contact, but I know the one guy that’s going to be watching is Coach Spoo. I want to put on a great show for coach and show him that we’re bringing Panther football back.” 

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