By TYLER PHILLIPS
Eastern’s football team finished a disappointing 2013 season with its third straight loss, falling 34-27 in overtime at Murray State last Saturday. Eastern hadn’t lost to the Racers since 2004.
The Colonels started redshirt freshman Kyle Romano at quarterback. This was Romano’s first start of the season, but he left the game in the first quarter because of an injury.
Junior Jared McClain came in for the Colonels after the Romano injury. McClain, who started every other game this season, led the Colonel offense to over 400 yards of total offense. However, the offense just couldn’t score when they needed to.
Head Coach Dean Hood said after the game in a radio interview that the team had several chances to score deep in Racer territory but never got the points.
Hood said the offense didn’t get it done in short-yardage situations. He said that because the Colonels pride themselves on being a running team, short-yardage running situations should come with ease but that didn’t happen against Murray State.
One of those situations was in overtime. After Murray State scored off of a reverse pass on a third and long, the Eastern offense took over and was presented with a first and goal from inside the five-yard line. Murray’s defense stopped a usually powerful Eastern run game four times and won the game. McClain’s fourth-and-goal quarterback sneak was stopped on the one-yard line, ending the season for the Colonels.
Hood said the Colonels just had to be able to run the football. He said that the play call was quarterback power, a play that they usually run with senior Ben De La Cruz and they just didn’t get in.
The Colonels’ struggle to convert from four yards in overtime comes as a surprise. Eastern rushed the ball 79 times for 311 yards throughout the game. Several players had successful rushing days for Eastern. Two of the Colonels running backs, redshirt freshman Jared Sanders had 23 carries for 80 yards and redshirt freshman Thomas Owens rushed 20 times for 117 yards and two touchdowns. Both of those were highs for the Colonels.
McClain added 66 yards to the total, including a 39-yard run to the Murray State 12-yard line that set up the game-tying score.
The Colonels end the year 6-6 (4-4 OVC), the second time in the last 36 years Eastern did not have a winning record. Both years had Hood as the head coach.
Eastern was ranked No. 19 in the FCS at the beginning of the season and one of the OVC favorites. Eastern finished tied for 5th in the OVC with Murray State after the loss.
Hood said the responsibility for the disappointing season lies with him, and added that he is proud of the seniors. Hood said he told the seniors that there’s a reason a sign on their weight room door says Colonels for life. He said he would always communicate with his players as they go out in life.
Hood said he saw no quit in either team, even after both had no shot at the playoffs before the game.
Redshirt freshman wide receiver Devin Borders was named OVC Freshman of the Year after his 34 catch, 509-yard season. Borders also caught six touchdowns and blocked five kicks, which was the most by any FCS player this season. Borders joins former Eastern quarterback T.J. Pryor as the only two Eastern players to win the award.