Nothing has been normal for the Colonels during the 2020 season.
They have had to deal with schedule changes, regular COVID-19 testing, extensive social distancing requirements, societal unrest and a general state of uncertainly about almost everything in the world — on top of the normal issues every college student-athlete must deal with on a daily basis.
“The mental fatigue that these guys are in right now is something that I don’t think any of us have every experienced,” first-year EKU coach Walts Wells said. “We’ve had three open weeks and think all three have come at great times to get those things taken care of.”
Those open weeks have given the Colonels some much needed structure in a chaotic time.
Back-to-back games, followed by a bye.
That’s been the format so far this season.
“We have kind of gotten into a routine with these open weeks,” Wells said.
That routine is over, though.
The Colonels (2-4) will finish the season with three-straight games without an open date, beginning with a match-up with Stephen F. Austin (4-3) today at Roy Kidd Stadium.
Kick-off is set for 3 p.m.
The game will be available on ESPN3.
EKU is set to travel to Central Arkansas next week before a showdown with Western Carolina on Nov. 21 in Richmond.
The Colonels carried some big-time momentum into their final bye week of the season.
EKU rallied late for a 31-28 win over Central Arkansas on Oct. 24 at home. Redshirt junior quarterback Dakota Allen came off the bench to lead two second-half touchdown drives, including a TD pass to Matt Wilcox with six seconds left.
“I couldn’t have been prouder of him,” Wells said of Allen. “He stepped up in that moment and that shows his character.”
Allen had not played in almost two months, but completed 9-of-14 passes for 85 yards and had a team-best 59 yards rushing against Central Arkansas.
On Tuesday during his weekly press conference, Wells announced Allen would start against Stephen F. Austin.
It was be his first start since 2018.
“It feels great,” Allen said. “Last week was such an unreal feeling getting back in there and doing what I know how to do. We won the game too.”
Parker McKinney had started every game this season, but was injured in the first half of the win over Central Arkansas. The redshirt sophomore could be out of the line-up for several weeks.
“He won’t be available this week,” Wells said. “Hopefully, we will get him back as the season moves on. It’s going to be a week-to-week process with him.”
The win over Central Arkansas snapped a two-game losing streak for the Colonels.
Now, EKU will look to build on that momentum as they prepare to face a Southland Conference team for the third time this season — Central Arkansas and Houston Baptist.
“It’s like I told the guys, ‘You can’t have a winning streak without the first one.’ Now we’ve got to get another one,” Wells said. “We just want to focus on each and every day to get to where we want to be.”
The Lumberjacks opened the season with three-straight losses (all to Football Bowl Subdivision teams), but have won four consecutive games since.
Stephen F. Austin beat conference rival Abilene Christian, 35-32, in overtime on Oct. 24, before rolling past Western Colorado, 64-7, last week.
Quarterback Trae Self threw for 170 yards and two touchdowns on nine completions in limited action against Western Colorado. Tre’ Henderson rushed for 75 yards and scored two touchdowns. Remi Simmons caught four passes for 143 yards and had one touchdown.
Stephen F. Austin averages 28 points per game and only allows 22 per game. The Lumberjacks average 376 yards of offense per game, with 258 coming through the air and 119 on the ground. SFA has forced 17 turnovers while giving the ball away just eight times.
For the season, Self has thrown for 1,511 yards and 11 touchdowns while completing 61 percent of his passes. Da’Leon Ward leads the team with 265 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Xavier Gipson has a team-best 624 receiving yards and six touchdown receptions.
“They are a well-coached team with some really good football players,” Wells said. “The state of Texas always has good players. We are looking forward to the challenge.”
The game will mark the first-ever meeting between the programs.