Eastern football set to face off against No. 25 UT Martin


Ashanti Thomas

Linebacker Colin Bohanek (45), and defensive back Mark Aitken (2), tackles a Southeast Missouri player during their game Saturday afternoon. The Panthers lost to the Redhawks 31-7 on the O’Brien Field.

Kate Stevens, Assistant Sports Editor

Eastern Illinois University (2-8, 1-3 OVC) at University of Tennessee – Martin (6-4, 4-0 OVC)

Graham Stadium – Martin, Tenn., at 2 p.m.

Series Record: EIU leads 15-12

Last Meeting: UT Martin beat EIU 28-17 on Oct. 16, 2021, at O’Brien Stadium.

Last Week: EIU was defeated by Southeast Missouri 31-7 at home on Nov.12.

OVC Stats:

EIU Offense: Scoring (5), Rushing (5), Pass (7), Total (7)

UT Martin Offense: Scoring (1), Rushing (2), Pass (2), Total (1)

EIU Defense: Scoring (4), Rushing (4), Pass (4), Total (5)

UT Martin Defense: Scoring (2), Rushing (1), Pass (5), Total (3)

The Best Punters in the OVC fight for first:

EIU punter Trey Wilhoit and UT Martin punter Tyler Larco are the top two punters in the Ohio Valley Conference. In the nation, Larco is ranked 5th and Wilhoit is ranked 7th for punting average. Larco is at the top averaging 45.5 yards per punt and Wilhoit is right behind him averaging 44. Larco has a season long of 67 yards while Wilhoit has a season long of 59 yards. Wilhoit won this week’s OVC Specialist of the Week. He has received the award three times this season and Larco has received it twice.

Wilhoit said it has been an honor each time he has won the award. He credits his teammates for doing their job so that he can easily do his.

“It feels great,” Wilhoit said. “I mean, obviously, every time I win is another wonderful feeling. It’s always been everybody holding their block so I can punt, everybody getting down there and covering.”

Special teams doing special things for EIU:

Wilhoit said he thinks the special teams for EIU has been doing well and they want to continue to domimate. One of the things that the defense has going for them is their abilities to turn plays into turnovers. The special teams unit has also done well in that area. EIU currently ranks 37th in the nation for blocked kicks. Earlier in the season safety Jordan Vincent was able to block a field goal that was then returned for a touchdown by defensive back Mark Aitken in the game with Tennessee Tech. Last week, safety Collin Tyson was able to block a punt by SEMO.

Tyson said that SEMO had a weakness in their punt that the coaches were able to see and make a gameplan around executing a punt block.

“It [the punt] was supposed to open up and I was supposed to get through there and block it,” Tyson said. “I just executed it, but it was really all my coach, coach [Kyle] Derickson.”

What EIU looks to do to find a win in last regular season game:

As EIU is going up one of the best in the OVC and in the nation, they plan to work on tackling, dominate on special teams, and to take care of the football in the matchup with UT Martin.

Tyson said that main focus this week in practice was to get better at tackling.

“Definitely making sure we tackle,” Tyson said. “I think that’s one of the biggest things and whenever we get here [practice] every day, we make sure we do tackling circuits and whatnot, just to get better.”

Wilhoit said that the goal for the special teams units are to dominate as well as they can when it comes to special teams. He also said he looks forward to the contest between the top two punters in the league.

“It’s the 1/3 of the game that I feel like we have done the best in in terms of offense, defense, and special teams,” Wilhoit said. “We take pride in it. This week will be fun because it’s number one playing against number two punting for the OVC.”

Coach Chris Wilkerson said he’s looking forward to seeing the team put their best effort in for the last game of the season.

“I’m looking forward to watching the guys compete,” Wilkerson said. “They’ve been a really resilient group and coaches, and certainly there’s been ups and downs this season and I know that we’re just focused on trying to put our best foot forward on Saturday.

He also said the team needs to protect the ball this weekend as UT Martin is the best in the league in taking interceptions and EIU has the most interceptions thrown.

“We need to make sure we take care of the football,” Wilkerson said. “Their offense [UT Martin] is very explosive and their defense is just as talented. So, we’ve got our hands full, but looking forward to the challenge.”