By Nathan Hutchinson
Register Sports Editor
The Colonels haven’t been elimination from contention for an Ohio Valley Conference title.
Still, last week’s loss at home to Eastern Illinois makes the path to a championship very, very difficult.
“Every game from here on out is a must-win,” EKU senior wide receiver Tryone Goard said.
With just two games left on the schedule, EKU (6-3, 4-2 OVC) is just a half a game out of first place.
That’s the good news.
Unfortunately for the 23rd-ranked Colonels, they’ve already lost to two of the three teams ahead of them in the standings — Eastern Illinois (5-3, 4-1) and Tennessee State (8-1, 4-1)
That’s the bad news.
That leaves the Colonels in a position where they have to win and hope they get some big-time help.
“You can get into all that Japanese math if you want, but it really doesn’t matter if we don’t go down to Cape Girardeau and win a game,” EKU coach Dean Hood said. “That’s all that matters.”
A strong finish will not only keep the Colonels in the title hunt, but will also give them a shot at an at-large bid to the Football Championship Playoffs.
But, first things first.
EKU will look to get back on track today on the road against Southeast Missouri State (3-5, 2-3).
Game time is set for 2 p.m. in Cape Girardeau, Mo.
“We know that its a big deal to win out if we have any chance of making the playoffs,” EKU linebacker Kevin Hamlin said.
The Colonels went into last week’s game tied for first place in the OVC, but a 24-7 loss to EIU dropped them to fourth place.
EKU’s offense was dreadful against the Panthers. The Colonels finished with a season-low 81 yards rushing on 45 carries and had just 284 total yards — their second-lowest output of the season.
“We came out a little flat,” Goard said of EKU’s offense. “The defense held us up. Hats off to them. They always play a good game. But, when the offense doesn’t come out to play, that’s what happens. It’s kind of embarrassing to have a big-time offense like we do and to only put up seven points. We are still working hard.”
The Colonels defense forced four turnovers, improving the team’s turnover margin to +14 (second-best in the FCS) on the season, but they were unable to convert any of those miscues into points.
The Panthers sacked senior quarterback T.J. Pryor five times as they moved into a three-way tie at the top of the OVC standings with UT-Martin (6-2, 4-1) and Tennessee State.
“(You) have to (move on),” Hood said. “If not, then you are going to run into more problems than you want.”
The Colonels and Redhawks are two of the top running teams in the OVC.
EKU averages 201 yards a game on the ground, third-best in the league, while SEMO leads the conference at 234.4 yards rushing a game.
The Redhawks have two backs amongst the OVC rushing leaders — Levi Terrell (120.6 yards a game) and Scott Lathrop (56.3 yards a game). EKU’s Matt Denham is averaging 122.2 yards a game, the second-best in the OVC.
EKU has the best run defense, allowing only 93.1 yards a game.
“We are very excited. As a defense, we love to go up against the run,” Hamlin said. “It will be a change. Last week (against EIU’s passing offense) we all worked on our drops and getting our hands on receivers. This week we will just be playing assignment football and everyone needs to make sure they do their job.”
The Redhawks have lost three of their past four games, but they picked up a 48-27 win last week on the road against Austin Peay.
SEMO had 399 yards rushing, including 179 yards and two touchdowns from Lathrop and 137 yards and two touchdowns from Terrell.
“They are a physical team,” Hood said of SEMO. “To me its shocking that they are just a three-win team right now. They are about as physical a team as they can be.”
The Colonels are 9-1 all-time at SEMO, but that only loss came on their last trip. The Redhawks handed EKU a 40-21 in 2010.