The Richmond Register

November 23, 2013

OVC FOOTBALL: Colonels still determined to finish strong

By Nathan Hutchinson
Register Sports Editor

RICHMOND — The Colonels find themselves in a very unusual position heading into today’s season finale at Murray State (5-6, 3-4 OVC).

They know that regardless of the outcome, they have no possibility of qualifying for postseason play.

“This is the first time since (this coaching staff) has been here that the last game of the year doesn’t give us a chance at the playoffs or a conference championship,” said sixth-year EKU coach Dean Hood. “So, that’s highly disappointing. But, you’ve got to grind it out and get right back at it because it is important for our program and our seniors.”

Disappointing, indeed.

Especially considering that two weeks ago, the Colonels (6-5, 4-3 OVC) looked like a strong contender for an at-large bid to the Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs.

But, following back-to-back losses to Jacksonville State (68-10) and at home to UT-Martin (16-7), EKU needs to beat Murray State just to finish the season with a winning record.

Game time at Roy Stewart Stadium is set for 1 p.m. today. The game will mark the 73rd all-time meeting between the long-time rivals.

“We are not going to let ourselves be passive and just go out there say, ‘It’s the last one. Who cares?,’” EKU senior QB/wide receiver Ben De La Cruz said. “Our seniors want to finish our careers with a win and show that we didn’t give up after the adversity that we’ve been through this year.”

For the Colonels, the season finale really is all about pride and tradition.

EKU has finished with a non-winning record just once in the past 36 years — 2009 (5-6). The program has had just four non-winning seasons since 1965 (1965, 1972, 1977 and 2009).

“It’s real important for us to get to 7-5, instead of 6-6,” EKU senior linebacker Anthony Brown said. “That’s a lot better, even though its only just one win.”

The biggest reason the Colonels recent struggle has been a less than effective offense.

EKU has scored only 17 points and reached the end zone just twice in the past nine quarters. In the losses to Jacksonville State and UT-Martin, the Colonels been able to generate just 438 total yards of offense (219 yards a game).

EKU had just 80 yards rushing last week, the team’s lowest total in more than two years.

“Defenses have done a good job against us,” Hood said. “We haven’t been able to get the right combination of guys, especially at the point of attack. We’ve been doing it with different guys. It’s been difficult to find healthy bodies. When you aren’t running the ball well, it really hurts your play-action passing.”

Jared McClain has started every game this season at quarterback, but he was benched late in the first half last week. In the past two weeks, the junior has fumbled five times and thrown an interception.

Against the Racers, redshirt freshman Kyle Romano will make his first college start.

“Kyle is going to start the game and we are going to see how he does,” Hood said.

The Colonels have dominated recently against the Racers, winning eight straight and 11 of the past 12 games.

But, the past three games at Murray have been battles. The Colonels won 34-33 in 2011, won 23-13 in 2009 and 46-35 in 2007.

The Racers were still in the hunt for a postseason bid just a few weeks ago as well.

However, since a 31-3 over Austin Peay on Oct. 19, they have lost three-straight games, falling to UT-Martin (45-17), Eastern Illinois (37-17) and Tennessee State (17-10).

The Racers had a 10-3 lead heading into the fourth quarter last week against in Nashville, but allowed two touchdowns in the final 9:49 of the game.

For the past couple of weeks, Murray has been without senior wide receiver Walter Powell, a candidate for the Walter Payton Award. He has 66 catches for 837 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Powell is not expected to play today either.

Parks Frazier took over as the starting quarterback for Murray State two weeks ago. The junior has completed 62-of-93 passes for 502 yards and three touchdowns in those two games.

EKU leads the all-time series with the Racers, 43-25-4. The Colonels have not lost at Murray since 1999.

“Murray is one of our biggest rivals in the conference and we always want to beat them when we can,” Brown said.