Five-straight victories have put the Colonels (6-2, 3-0 AQ7) in a position to challenge for a conference championship or earn an at-large bid to the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) Playoffs.
They know that.
A lot can change, however, in the next couple of weeks.
“If you just keep winning, you will be where you need to be,” EKU coach Walt Wells said. “If we win this Saturday, we will be one step closer to where everyone wants us to be.”
It’s that simple.
It certainly won’t be that easy.
The No. 19/25 Colonels are set to close out the regular season against three tough conference opponents — highlighted by a pair of trips to Texas.
That difficult stretch begins today with a match-up against Stephen F. Austin (5-3, 1-2).
Game time is 5 p.m. in Nacogodoches, Texas
The broadcast will be available on ESPN+.
“It will be a challenge, but I believe in these young men,” Wells said.
The Colonels will head back to Texas next week to face undefeated and top-ranked Sam Houston State (7-0, 4-0) before a showdown at home with long-time rival Jacksonville State (3-5, 1-2) on Nov. 20.
First things first, though.
“We’ve got a big challenge this week,” Wells said. “Stephen F. Austin is a really good team. We struggled against them last year.”
The Lumberjacks beat the Colonels, 24-6, 364 days ago (Nov. 7, 2020) at Roy Kidd Stadium. SFA ran out to a quick 14-0 lead and limited the Colonels to just two field goals and 214 yards of total offense.
“They are, in a lot of ways, the same team we saw last year,” Wells said of SFA. “They’ve just got a lot more experience. The quarterback is back. They’ve had some injuries at running back. They are a really good, physical team.”
The Lumberjacks suffered narrow losses to Sam Houston State (21-20) and Jacksonville State (28-24) to open conference play, but have bounced back with two solid wins. They beat Dixie State, 37-20, and topped Abilene Christian, 41-27, last week.
SFA is averaging 35.4 points a game, 12th in the nation among FCS teams.
Quarterback Trae Self has completed 65 percent of his passes on the season for 2,112 yards with 17 touchdowns and just four interceptions.
Larry Jones, a wide receiver, moved into the backfield last week because of some injuries. The junior had 108 yards rushing on 11 carries.
Xavier Gipson and Darryl Simmons each had two receiving TDs last week against Abilene Christian.
“We are really just trying to lock in on physicality,” EKU redshirt junior defensive lineman Kelton Dawson said of trying to shut down SFA’s offense. “We just need to lock in on our technique and just play together as a team.”
The Colonels put together a terrific all-around team performance last week in a 42-10 win at home over last-place Lamar.
Parker McKinney completed 15-of-20 passes for 218 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Da’Joun Hewitt had 101 yards rushing and Dakota Allen had two TD catches.
Davion Ross returned an interception for a score for the third team this season — the most in the nation and Dawson had three tackles-for-loss, a forced fumble and a sack.
“I thought all three phases played well, especially in the first half,” Wells said. “We started fast and played the way we expect to play.”
EKU racked up 20 first downs and had seven players catch a pass, including an acrobatic 39-yard reception by Cord Sandberg, who also played quarterback for most of the second half.
“We have a lot of guys who can make plays and I’m happy I’ve been able to be one of those guys,” Sandberg said.
The Colonels took an afternoon flight on Friday to Texas.
They will have to make a very similar trip again in another week.
“I feel like they will be up for it,” Wells said.