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The Daily Eastern News

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‘We’re chasing after greatness’ Mirza says previewing game against Northwestern State

With a 31-28 win over McNeese last Saturday, the Panthers look to seek a third win in a row against the Northwestern State Demons this Saturday in Natchitoches, LA.

Panthers’ Head Coach Chris Wilkerson shared the mindset he wants the team to adopt when facing adversity in future games.

“I think it’s the same thing you know, there’s no panic,” Wilkerson said. “That’s the biggest thing we said: ‘Hey, don’t panic. It’s just part of the process.’ And that was the other thing that I told them at the half it was, ‘Hey guys, this is some serious adversity we want to give to a one-score game,’ but that’s part of the process, and we responded again very, very well. So, you know, I think it’s about trying to maintain your poise and your focus and still being able to execute when you have those emotional ups and downs… I know this group believes and I know they believe in the next person up and they believe in the ‘We, Not Me,’ and certainly they believe in ‘Hey, the game’s not over until the last second ticks off the clock.’ So, we’re just on to the next.”

Junior wide receiver Eli Mirza felt a positive shift in his teammates’ energy since he joined the team during the offseason in January.

Junior wide receiver Eli Mirza says the team is “chasing after greatness” as they prepare for their game against the Northwestern State Demons on Saturday. (File) 

“We’re chasing after greatness from all of our teammates,” Mirza said.

Junior defensive back Zay Gentry felt the competition throughout fall camp has helped his teammates’ energy grow stronger throughout the season.

“There were a lot of people bringing out the best in each other,” Gentry said.

Senior kicker Stone Galloway thinks the impact Wilkerson made on the team has helped the Panthers so far throughout the season.

“The thing that has really blessed this team is Coach Wilk,” Galloway said. “He’s coming here, being an alumni and also coaching here. He’s just bringing a different atmosphere and you can really tell that he cares for this place, and he’s not one that’s just trying to get in and out to something bigger.”

Wilkerson gave insights into the Demons’ strengths and weaknesses that the team should be aware of heading into Saturday’s game.

“Northwestern State is a very talented football team,” Wilkerson said. “They’re much better than their record. They played two FBS schools to open the season in Louisiana-Lafayette and then [Louisiana Tech], and then they played Stephen F. Austin, who’s an FCS school, who was one of the better FCS schools this year, and then they had a bye week last week, so they’re not where they want to be record-wise, but they have some talent. Offensively, they’ve got two quarterbacks that can play. The starter looks like he might have gotten banged up, but they’ve had a week and a half now since they’ve played. I’m assuming he’ll be back. The backup quarterback was very good. They’ve got great skill on the perimeter offensively. Their offensive line is very physical and very well coached and very aggressive.”

Northwestern State is currently 0-3 for the 2023 season.

“Offensively, they’re a little bit different than what we saw the last couple of weeks,” Wilkerson said. “They’re a little more for down spacing, but they’re gonna number up in the box. They’re gonna challenge us on the perimeter. They’re gonna play some more man to man and so you know, the challenge is we still got to be able to have no balls on the ground, limit the turnovers, preferably zero, and we’re gonna have to run the football as efficiently as we want to, and we’re still gonna have to make some plays in the passing game and winning one on one coverage… So, it’s gonna be a tremendous challenge for us.”

Eastern Illinois is 3-1, the best that the Panthers’ have opened a season since 2016.

Redshirt freshman running back MJ Flowers thinks the support from Wilkerson has helped the team and their successes throughout the season.

MJ Flowers, a red shirt freshman running back feels the support from Head Coach Chris Wilkerson. (File)

“Coach Wilk makes sure that we know that he’s invested in us,” Flowers said. “He wants the best for us. Going out and being able to play for a coach that has all the trust in us makes it easier for us to go out and win.”

Redshirt junior safety Brandon Guido says the team has been focused on “flipping the script” this season.

“All offseason we’ve been talking about flipping the script,” Guido said. “That’s what we’re looking to do. Obviously last year, we didn’t get off to a good start, so this year, we wanted to make sure that we flipped the script right away.”

Coach Wilkerson shared what it is going to take for his team to get their third straight win.

“I think still it’s about our preparation during the week and our hunger,” Wilkerson said. “You know, I talked to the guys: ‘Hey, this is going to be unique because it’s so far away, and we’re going to fly down there the day of, so it’s going to be 90 to 93 degrees. It’s going to be much more humid, even though we play at six o’clock at night. So, we’ve got to win the trip, if you will. We’ve got to have our minds right, and I’ve told them to start preparing, you know, ‘Hey, the outcome on Saturday starts on Sunday.’ The preparation Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and even all the way up until kickoff is what’s going to really determine the outcome. So, I just want them to continue to improve and focus on the process and getting better at something every single day and then we’ll kind of see where we’re at 6:05 on Saturday.”

“If you don’t know already, you should know now that EIU football is back,” Galloway said.

The Sports Staff can be reached at 581-2812 or at [email protected].

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Duane Carter
Duane Carter, Sports Reporter
Duane Carter is a junior sports media relations major. This is his first year at The News.

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