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The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News

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Panthers feel motivated ahead of third conference game

This will be the first time the Panthers and Bulldogs meet.

With a 35-28 lost against Southeast Missouri State, Eastern looks to avoid their third straight loss as they prepare to compete against Bryant University this Saturday at O’Brien Stadium.

Panthers’ Head Coach Chris Wilkerson shared his advice on his team staying resilient and mentally focus after last week’s lost.

“They’re very tough mentally and physically,” Wilkerson said. “And I know that they are very focused on the next opportunity. You know, certainly the last two weeks didn’t go like they had hoped, but you know, we had a great week, a great Sunday and preparation. A lot of guys were around the building on Monday with their day off. I have no doubt that we’ll be ready to play on Saturday, but we still have some things obviously we want to clean up and as we continue to prepare for Saturday.”

Junior defensive back Tyris Harvey thinks the defense has been motivated throughout the season.

Tyris Harvey, a junior defensive back stretches before team practice at O’Brien Field Wednesday afternoon. (Tyriq Johnson)

The Panthers are currently ranked first in the overall defense category for the Big South-Ohio Valley Conference.

“[Defense] is the spot that we gotta hold and keep,” Harvey said. “It’s keeping us maintained and focused knowing that we got the team no matter what.”

Team chemistry has been a factor that has affected the Panthers throughout the season.

Redshirt junior defensive lineman Tre’jon Lewis said the chemistry between the players is still strong despite the two straight loses.

Tre’jon Lewis, a junior defensive line practice ripping pass blocking dummy at O’Brien Field Wednesday afternoon. (Tyriq Johnson)

“It’s probably way better than it was before,” Lewis said. “Once we go through those losses and wins together, it builds. We ask each other what we can work on, and we help each other and ask each other questions.”

Redshirt junior tight end Anthony Manaves thinks the chemistry will always be with the team no matter the end result.

“UTM and SEMO are good ball teams,” Manaves said. “We’re a good ball team. Even after heartbreaking losses, the chemistry is always going to be there. We all love each other and we’re truly a family here.”

Eli Mirza, a junior wide receiver catches a pass during practice at O’Brien Field Wednesday afternoon. (Tyriq Johnson)

Junior wide receiver Eli Mirza thinks the chemistry is still strong as the team is in their eighth week of the season.

“We keep pushing each other at practice every day,” Mirza said.

Wilkerson also shared the game-plan for this week’s opponent: the Bryant Bulldogs.

“On defense, we still want to make sure that we tackle and try to limit the explosive plays,” Wilkerson said. “You know, their quarterback has been very, very, very solid. He’s a good thrower; he’s made plays with his feet. He’s also their leading rusher. So, he’s a guy that we’ve got to be very aware of. They’ve got good skill, and their offensive line is fairly big. And then on defense. You know, they present some challenges because they’re kind of built to stop the run. And then they have the best pass rushing unit in the league. So, they’ve got the leading sacker in the conference. He has to sit out the first half because he had a targeted penalty against Robert Morris last weekend.”

Lewis thinks the sense of urgency has improved throughout practices lately.

“We’re focusing more on the details and the fundamentals of the game,” Lewis said.

Pierce Holley, a junior quarter back practice throwing the ball at O’Brien Field Wednesday afternoon. (Tyriq Johnson)

Redshirt junior quarterback Pierce Holley says the offense continues to practice converting on third downs.

“We gotta be better on first and second downs,” Holley said. “We’re in way too many third and long situations, which makes it really tough on the offense.”

The Panthers converted five out of 17 third-down chances against SEMO.

Mirza said Wilkerson has pushed the offense to start strong on first and second downs.

“Coach Wilk emphasized, especially this week, starting off fast on first and second downs to make the third downs more manageable for us.”

“We’re making sure our eyes are in better places and our hands are in better places,” Manaves said. “Just being on the same page and realizing the situation we’re in. I feel like we maybe weren’t as locked in on those certain plays last week.”

Anthony Manaves, a junior tight end practices catching the football with a teammate at O’Brien Field Wednesday afternoon. (Tyriq Johnson)

Wilkerson hopes to see a big crowd for Saturday’s game.

“Don’t give up on the Panthers now,” Wilkerson said. “I know we lost a couple of close ones during the conference, but we are excited about the opportunity to play at home again and hopefully have as many people in the stands.”

The Panthers will celebrate Hall of Fame Weekend during the game. Kickoff is scheduled for 2 p.m.

The sports staff can be reached at 581-2812 or at [email protected].

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About the Contributors
Zaria Flippin
Zaria Flippin, Sports Editor
Zaria Flippin is a junior sports media relations major. This is her first year at The News.
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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