By Todd Purvis/Sports editor
After suffering a disappointing loss in last weekend’s season opener to Appalachian State, the Eastern football team looks to rebound Saturday in the ‘Battle of the Bluegrass’ against the Hilltoppers of Western Kentucky University.”We’ve got a great opportunity with Western this weekend,” head coach Danny Hope said. “They are an outstanding I-AA football team.”
The much-anticipated rivalry between the two teams returns to Roy Kidd Stadium this Saturday after a five-year recession. The Colonels won in 1999 by a score of 30-10.
Last season, the two teams met up at L.T. Smith Stadium in Bowling Green, where the Hilltoppers ripped Eastern by a score of 36-3.
Western leads the all-time series 33-43-3. The ‘Battle of the Bluegrass’ is one of the state’s oldest rivalries, which dates back to 1914.
“This is an opportunity for us to play a top-ranked team and get our team back on the map,” Hope said. “This rivalry is very intense and will be one of the marquee games in the country this Saturday.”
Coach Hope said the loss was discouraging to his players, but they’ve come out and worked extremely hard this week in practice.
“We have a group of guys that have an excellent work ethic,” Hope said. “Our guys came out on Sunday and have practiced hard all week.”
The Hilltoppers come into this weekend’s game with a record of 1-1. Western opened their season with a 27-13 loss to Kansas State University, but boosted their record up to par with last weekend’s blowout over Concord by a score of 58-0.
The Hilltoppers try to pound the ball out on the ground and play power football, but they can also go to the air if necessary.
“They’re more of a run-oriented football team, but they can raise up and throw it,” Hope said. “They are a very good play-action football team.”
The Western offense strongly relies on the protection of their offensive line.
“Western has a very big offensive line that plays smash-mouthed football,” Hope said. “They are very physical on offense.”
Leading the ground attack for Western is junior running back Lerron Moore. Last season, Moore rushed for 1,490 yards and 13 touchdowns.
“He’s an outstanding running back. He was one of the top players in the Gateway (conference) last year.”
Orchestrating the passing game for the Hilltoppers is sophomore quarterback Justin Haddix.
“Haddix is a great player that throws a good ball,” Hope said. “He’s a great play-action quarterback.”
Coach Hope looks to get a lot of push up front from his offensive line.
“Our offensive line is a group of guys that have a lot of potential,” Hope said. “We need them to step up because Western plays fast on defense and brings a lot of guys at the quarterback.”
The starting-quarterback position for Eastern is a bit unclear going into this weekend’s contest. After being plagued by ongoing injuries, senior quarterback Matt Guice’s status is listed as day-to-day.
Coach Hope said that if Guice cannot go this weekend, red-shirt freshman Josh Greco would get the starting nod. Last weekend, Greco took the majority of the snaps and recorded 162 passing yards, one passing touchdown and one rushing touchdown.
“Josh is a good player that has a lot of potential,” Hope said. “He really showed some poise last week, and the better we can do up front, the better he can do.”
Also leading the Colonel offense will be sophomore tight end Patrick Bugg.
Bugg reeled in seven passes last weekend for 76 yards and one touchdown.
The Eastern ground game will be led by senior running back C.J. Hudson. Last weekend, Hudson rushed for 72 yards on 18 carries, which was good enough to move him up to ninth all-time at Eastern, with 3,009 yards.
“On offense, we need to do a better job on getting the ball into our playmakers hands,” Hope said.
Eastern’s solid linebacker core of Justen Rivers, Jerome Jones and Will Stilley will lead the Colonel defense. The trio recorded 31 tackles last weekend, as Jones finished with a team-high 13 stops.
“We need to do a better job of containing and pressuring the quarterback this week,” Hope said.
Hope is very optimistic about the game, but he knows that a victory isn’t going to come easy.
“We have enough talent to beat them,” Hope said. “We have to play physical football and will need to minimize our mistakes.”
The contest is scheduled to start at 7:30 this Saturday, and is projected to have near record attendance at Roy Kidd Stadium.
“Anytime we play here, we feel like we have the advantage,” Hope said. “I expect to see a great crowd that will fuel our football team.”
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