By Jonathan Stark
The Colonles just got done playing one rival, and they’re already preparing to play another. This Saturday they take on Morehead State for the first time in 12 seasons.Between 1924 and 1995, the Eagles and the Colonels faced each other 68 times. Eastern has won 48 of the meetings, while Morehead has won only 16. Four games ended in ties.
Morehead State hails from the Pioneer Football League. The PFL is the nation’s only non-scholarship NCAA Football Championship Subdivision conference and only sponsors football.
The last time Eastern played Morehead was 1995, when the Colonels had an impressive 41-10 win. It was Eastern’s ninth win in the last ten meetings.
“I remember that game vividly – standing on the sideline thinking they’re outplaying us and they’re outcoaching us in this game,” head coach Dean Hood recalls. “It must have gotten away from them late because I remember that being a game and being really concerned with the outcome for quite a while.”
The rivalry was once one of the biggest in the state but has lost its luster since Morehead left the OVC in 1995.
“Back in the day, it used to be a big rivalry, and it will be again this Saturday,” sophomore linebacker Jordan Dalrymple said.
Between 1936 and 1962, the rivalry was called “The Battle for the Hawg Rifle.” The winner was given an old “hawg rifle” following the game. The tradition and name was thrown out after a dispute between the two schools over a cartoon drawn of the Eastern president.
The Eagles went 7-4 last year and 5-2 in their conference, finishing in third place.
Morehead is off to a 1-1 start this season. In their first game, they blew out Southern Virginia 49-6. Their luck changed this past weekend as they fell to Robert Morris 27-13.
“It’s another in-state team, and they’re going to bring their A-game, and we got to bring ours,” senior Allan Holland said. “We’re 0-2; they’re licking their chops right now to come in here and knock us off and make us 0-3. I’m licking my chops to get back on the field Saturday and get ready to go.”
The Eagles will be using multiple offensive sets on Saturday.
At quarterback will be redshirt sophomore Evan Sawyer. Sawyer saw very little playing time last year and is off to a mediocre start this season. He’s completed less than half of his passes (24-49) and thrown two touchdowns and two interceptions. But Sawyer is a threat to run: Against Southern Virginia he was the Eagles’ leading rusher with 63 yards, however against Robert Morris he had negitive 13 yards.
“He’s got breakaway speed and he’s got some shake and he reminds me a lot of Western’s quarterback (K.J. Black),” Hood said. Hood said sawyer is, “a very athletic kid who can run the football and he’s got a lot of zip on his pass. He can hurt you; he’s definitely someone who we’ve got to contain.”
At running back, Morehead has a couple upperclassmen: senior Erick Fitzpatrick and junior Jerrod Pendleton. Even with their experience, they have struggled so far this season. They have combined for just 61 rushing yards in two games. Sophomore fullback Drew Morgan is the team’s leading rusher with 63 yards.
At receiver, Morehead has senior Nick Feldman. Despite being only 5 feet 10 inches tall, he was the Eagles’ leading receiver last year with 45 catches for 735 yards and five touchdowns. This season he has nine catches for 170 yards and two touchdowns, all of which are team-highs.
The offensive line has been almost perfect, allowing only two sacks.
Where the Eagle offense has really struggled is turnovers; they have fumbled six times, recovering the ball only three times. Morehead quarterbacks have also thrown three interceptions.
The Eastern defense must start tackling better. Missed tackles and broken tackles played a large part in both losses this season, especially last week against Western. Morehead has struggled on the ground, so that should make things easier for the Colonels.
Dalrymple believes that Eastern’s struggles with tackling are fundamental.
“We’re coming in flying around,” he said. “We’re not breaking down and wrapping up and driving our feet.”
He also said the defense has been working on tackling drills in practice and expects a lot less missed and broken tackles come Saturday.
The defense needs to look for long pass plays. Out of eight receivers to record a catch for Morehead, only two of them are averaging less than 10 yards a reception.
The defensive line needs to keep pressure on the quarterback. He’s only been sacked twice this season; if he keeps getting pressured, he’s going to make mistakes.
“We gotta to come out ready to play and shut their offense down so we can give the ball back to our offense on a good portion of the field so they don’t have to go 70-80 yards,” Dalrymple said.
TyJuan Jones is off to great start on defense for the Colonels. The senior linebacker already has 23 tackles and two forced fumbles.
“He plays all-out sideline to sideline,” Dalrymple said. “He’ll come up and whack any day of the week.”
Morehead State’s 4-3 defense has been very successful pressuring the quarterback. They’ve already recorded eight sacks in two games. They have also picked off three passes.
At linebacker, the Eagles have a couple players with experience. Wes McDermott was second on the team last year with 64 tackles. This season, he’s already racked up 12. Tony Bachman is another player to watch. He already has 9.5 tackles-3.5 for a loss-and one sack.
At defensive back, the Eagles have senior David Hyland back from last season. Hyland led the team with eight interceptions last season. This season he has six tackles and three pass breakups.
Eastern’s running game has been atrocious this season with only 68 total yards. Morehead’s players probably wont’s be at the same talent level as Cincinnati and Western Kentucky. The Colonels should be able to do better on the ground this week then in their previous games.
“The run game is going to come along and it’s going to hit big,” Holland said. “There’s gonna be one of these games where we run for 200 or 300 yards and only throw for 100 yards. We’re going to get the running game on track.”
Eastern’s passing game has been thriving. Aside from the fourth quarter on Saturday, Holland had a great passing day. The Colonels need to keep going to the air. Normally when a team runs a spread offense the tight ends are rarely used, but Eastern tight end Stephen Sizemore is turning into the team’s leading receiver and the leading receiver in the OVC with 14 catches.
“Sizemore has great hands,” Holland said. “He’s finding ways to get open. He can go down and get the ball and go up high. He doesn’t care to take a hit. You can’t ask more out of a tight end like Sizemore.”
With Sizemore doing so well, teams will start to target him. Eastern needs to utilize other receivers like Garnett Phelps and Stephon Fuqua. Phelps has yet to touch the ball aside from punt returns, and Fuqua only has two catches for 48 yards.
Morehead State’s place-kicker Mason Webb is perfect on the season, going 2-2 in field goals. Both were less than 35 yards. Morehead has punted 12 times, averaging just under 40 yards a punt.
“They’re sound on both sides of the ball and kicking game. They are a very well-coached team,” Hood said.
Eastern’s special teams unit has been busy. Taylor Long is 2-3; both of his made field goals were over 40 yards. Logan O’Conner has punted 13 times, averaging just over 40 yards a punt, second in the OVC.
The Colonels should get their first win of the season on Saturday. If Morehead State does play the game of their lives and win, it may be panic time for coach Hood and his football team.
Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. Saturday at Roy Kidd St