By Todd Purvis/Sports editor
After falling short in last weekend’s late-game rally, the Colonel football team finds itself in a must-win situation this Saturday when they hit the road to take on conference foe Samford Bulldogs.”This game is a big one,” Head coach Danny Hope said. “Samford is a really good football team.”
Eastern is looking for its first win of the season after being edged by Jacksonville State by a score of 30-23 last weekend, which dropped the Colonels’ record to 0-3 on the year and 0-1 in league play.
“Our record is not as attractive as it could be, but our team morale is still really high,” Hope said. “Our guys have really been sticking together.”
Samford comes into the game with an overall record of 1-3 and a conference record of 0-1 after losing a four-overtime thriller last weekend to Southeast Missouri State.
“Their record doesn’t indicate how good of a football team they really are,” Hope said.
Last season, Eastern squeaked past the Bulldogs in Roy Kidd Stadium by a score of 13-10. The Colonels lead the all-time series between the two teams by a record of 4-1. Samford’s lone win coming in 1992, which was the first time the two teams squared off.
Eastern’s offense will rely on freshman tight end Patrick Bugg. Bugg leads the team with 13 catches for 141 yards and one touchdown on the season.
Senior running back C.J. Hudson leads the way for the Colonels’ ground attack. Hudson has rushed for 263 on 68 attempts on the season for an average of 3.9 yards per carry.
Senior quarterback Matt Guice’s status is still questionable, but Hope is optimistic about Guice’s return.
“There’s a chance that he may be ready this weekend; if not, he should be ready to go next weekend,” Hope said. “He will be a huge boost to our football team.”
The Colonel defense will play a key role in the game once again, as they will be led by junior Jerome Jones and seniors Pierre Wright and Justen Rivers.
Jones comes into the game with a team-high 38 tackles on the year and four tackles for a loss.
Wright enters the game leading the Colonels with two interceptions this season and has tallied 31 stops this season.
Rivers has recorded 26 tackles, recovered two fumbles and has scored the team’s lone defensive touchdown.
The Bulldogs will be led by senior wide-out Efrem Hill. Hill was named the 2003 OVC Offensive Player of the Year and the 2003 OVC Male Athlete of the Year last season. This season, Hill has reeled in four touchdown passes on 37 catches for 464 yards.
Samford also returns its leading passer from last season, senior quarterback Ray Nelson. Nelson was a first-team All-OVC selection last year and has thrown for 997 yards and nine touchdowns this season. Nelson also leads the Bulldogs in rushing, as he has found the end zone three times on the ground this season while rushing for 292 yards.
“Ray Nelson is an outstanding passer and an excellent runner,” Hope said. “They have an outstanding passing game and an excellent receiver,” Hope said.
On the other side of the ball, the Bulldogs will be led by junior safety Cortland Finnegan, the reigning OVC Defensive Player of the Year. Finnegan leads the team with 43 tackles, three interceptions and one forced fumble.
“They have three of the best players in the conference, and they are a team that really plays hard,” Hope said.
Kickoff is set for 7:00 p.m., this Saturday at Seibert Stadium in Birmingham, Ala.
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