By Nathan Hutchinson
Register Sports Editor
The Colonels had plenty of time to reflect on all the things that went wrong during a very long bus trip back from Jacksonville State last weekend.
By the time they got back to Richmond, they were ready to quickly move on from a humbling 68-10 loss.
“It was just back to business as usual,” EKU senior linebacker Tyler Horn said. “It’s not anything different.”
That loss hurt.
The Colonels allowed the second-most points in school history and the most points ever to an OVC opponent.
It was a complete meltdown in every aspect of the game.
But, as disappointing as that loss was, it wasn’t a season killer.
With two games left on the schedule, EKU has almost no chance of claiming even a share of an OVC title. However, the Colonels (6-4, 4-2 OVC) are certainly still alive in the hunt for a bid to the recently expanded 24-team Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs.
For that to happen, they might need some help.
But, for now, the Colonels simply know they must bounce back and finish the season with a pair of wins.
“We will let whatever happens happen,” Horn said. “We don’t have any control over that. We are just worried about UT-Martin.”
The first challenge is a showdown with UT-Martin on Senior Day at Roy Kidd Stadium.
Kick-off is set for 1 p.m. today.
The Skyhawks (6-4, 4-2 OVC) are in pretty much the same situation.
They have the same record as the Colonels and know that only a pair of wins to close out the regular season will give them any realistic shot at a playoff bid.
“We are very aware of what the math allows us to accomplish,” UT-Martin coach Jason Simpson said.
Simple as that.
The winner stays in the hunt. The loser is eliminated from postseason contention.
And despite last week’s lopsided loss, the Colonels believe they are still in decent position to get back to the playoffs for the second time in the past three years.
“The bottom line is, if we win the last two games and Jacksonville State (8-2, 4-2 OVC) loses to Eastern Illinois (9-1, 6-0 OVC) this week then we are 8-4 and we are the outright second-place team in the OVC and we should go (to the playoffs),” Hood said.
The Skyhawks feel the same way.
UT-Martin has wins over a pair Top 25 teams this season —Chattanooga and Central Arkansas — and is coming off a very respectable loss last week at Memphis. The Skyhawks had a 6-0 lead, but allowed two fourth-quarter touchdowns and weren’t able to upset the Tigers for a second-straight season, falling on the road, 21-6.
“We were just one or two plays short,” Simpson said. “Still counts as a loss, but we played really hard.”
The Colonels dominated the series with the Skyhawks for the better part of two decades.
EKU won the first 20 meetings between the teams before falling to the Skyhawks in 2010 on the road.
The series has been very competitive in recent years. With the exception of last season’s 28-16 win by the Colonels in Martin, the previous five games between the schools have all been decided by less than a touchdown.
“Every game has been close,” Hood said. “Coach Simpson does a great job.”
On paper, this would appear to be another evenly matched game that will be decided in the final minutes.
Statistically, both teams are similar in a long list of categories, putting up comparable numbers on offense and defense.
It is surprising that both teams are among the OVC’s worst in turnover margin.
After giving the ball away four times last week, EKU has 19 takeaways and 19 turnovers on the season.
The Skyhawks are the only team in the league with a negative turnover margin. They are -13 and have the fewest takeaways (14) and the most giveaways in the OVC (27).
The Colonels will be keeping a close eye on other games this weekend, most notably Eastern Illinois at Jacksonville State and Murray State (5-5, 3-3 OVC) at Tennessee State (8-3, 5-2 OVC).
But in the end, they knew they must take care of their own business to have any chance of extending their season.
“We are still preparing every day like we are going to be in the playoffs,” Horn said.