By Nathan Hutchinson
Register Sports Editor
When the Colonels convincingly defeated Coastal Carolina last season on the road, they thought they had earned a victory that would help them secure an at-large bid to the FCS Playoffs if they didn’t win the Ohio Valley Conference.
Well, things didn’t work out way.
EKU went on to win eight games, but finished second in the OVC and Eastern Illinois got the league’s automatic bid to the playoffs.
The Colonels didn’t get an invite from the NCAA Selection Committee and were left out of the playoffs.
A year later, the EKU players and coaches know all too well that a similar scenario could play out once again.
That’s why another showdown with No. 21 Coastal Carolina (2-0) (today at Roy Kidd Stadium) is so important — for both teams.
Game time is set for 6 p.m.
“Every game is important,” EKU coach Dean Hood said. “Every game helps. Winning the OVC is our goal. That’s what we want to do. Then, we can take care of business in the playoffs. But, if you stub your toes, that’s why these guys are on the schedule and that’s why we are on the schedule for them. If they don’t win the Big South, but they beat us, then that’s something for the committee to look at. That’s why you play these games.”
The Chanticleers lost to EKU 35-17 last season in Conway, S.C., but won seven games and finished in tie a for first place in the Big South. By a tiebreaker, they received the league’s automatic bid to the playoffs and defeated Bethune Cookman in the opening round, 24-14, before falling to Old Dominion, 63-25.
Even though its just the third week of the season, there’s little doubt that the rematch between the Colonels and Coastal Carolina could very well have postseason implications.
“It’s one of those games you have to go get,” EKU sophomore defensive back Stanley Absanon said. “It’s not going to be easy. They are a good team.”
Both teams have played well early in the season.
The Chanticleers have picked up back-to-back, hard-fought wins — topping South Carolina State, 27-20, on the road and beating Furman, 35-28, last week at home.
The Colonels opened the season with an impressive 38-6 win at home over Robert Morris and suffered a respectable 44-7 loss last week at No. 7 Louisville.
EKU is ranked 25th in the FCS coaches poll and is not ranked in The Sports Network Poll.
Coastal Carolina is ranked 21st this week in both polls.
Last year’s game was the first-ever meeting between the programs. The Colonels jumped out to a 21-7 lead and never trailed.
Senior running back Matt Denham rushed for 121 yards and had two touchdowns (one rushing, one receiving) and senior Tyrone Goard had four catches for 113 yards and a touchdown.
“It will really come down to who is more physical as a team,” EKU running back Caleb Watkins said. “We were (more physical) last year and we hope to do that again this year.”
Coastal has averaged 31 points and 372 total yards a game so far this season. Quarterback Alex Ross is completing 65 percent of his pass and is averaging more than 200 yards a game.
Matt Hazel has 114 yards receiving and Lorenzo Taliaferro is averaging 106.5 yards a game rushing.
“You look at their roster and they’ve just got kids who can really run,” Hood said. “That’s the thing that I see when I look at the film. They’ve got a receiver who already has 11 catches and they’ve got a guy with 200 yards rushing through two games. Both those kids look really good.”
The Chanticleers have an All-American caliber performer leading their hybrid 4-2-5 defense.
Quinn Backus, a 5-foot-10, 250-pound junior linebacker from Greenwood, S.C., was named the Big South Defensive Player of the Year in 2012 after putting up some ridiculous numbers.
He had 139 tackles (69 solo), three sacks, eight tackles-for-loss, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and four passes defended.
Last week against Furman, Backus had 15 tackles and an interception.
“That kid is special,” Hood said of Backus.
The Colonels came out of the Louisville loss with their heads held high and without too many additional injuries concerns.
Senior tight end Matt Lengel tried to play a little, but re-injured his knee. He had an MRI this week and will likely not play against Coastal.
Senior defensive lineman David Carter suffered a concussion and is questionable.
Receivers Jaucady Rutledge and Ike Ariguzo did not play against Louisville, but should be back this week.
Safety Brandon Stanley, center Austin Jaggers and fullback Jeremy James have missed the first two game and will likely not play against the Chanticleers.
Cornerback Paul Ritter is also likely out, but Kiante Northington, a corner, should be back after missing the first two games because of an offseason injury.
The Colonels only managed to find the end zone once against Louisville, a 15-yard pass from Jared McClain to Devin Borders in the fourth quarter.
Still, they took some positives from the setback.
They held the Cardinals to just 78 yards rushing on 28 attempts — 2.8 yards a carry.
EKU is currently eighth in the nation (among FCS schools) in rush defense at 66.5 yards a game.
“I was just proud of the way the guys fought,” Absanon said of the Louisville game. “We played hard. We never quit. It was a rough game and a tough loss. But, the way that we fought and the effort we showed made me proud.”