By Nathan Hutchinson
Register Sports Editor
The Colonels head into their regular-season finale in an extremely frustrating position.
Even though they are just a half game out of first place, they know they have no control over their own destiny.
They must beat long-time rival Murray State and then hope for some help to have any chance to win a record 22nd Ohio Valley Conference championship.
“It’s a one-week season,” EKU senior running back Matt Denham said. “We’ve got to go out and take care of business. Hopefully one of the teams ahead of us will drop one in the next couple of weeks and give us opportunity to move up.”
First things first.
The Colonels (7-3, 5-2 OVC) are set to take on Murray State (4-5, 3-3 OVC) at 1 p.m. today at Roy Kidd Stadium.
The game will mark the final home appearance for 13 EKU seniors.
“We are just all playing for each other and going out there and fighting,” EKU defensive lineman Robert Knowles said. “We are not out of it yet.”
There are still two weeks left in the regular season, but the Colonels are off next week.
The two teams ahead of EKU in the standings — Eastern Illinois (6-3, 5-1 OVC) and UT-Martin (7-2, 5-1) — both have two games left.
However, EIU has just one OVC game left.
The Panthers are set to take on SEMO at home today before closing out the regular season at Central Arkansas.
UT-Martin is at Tennessee Tech today before returning home next week to take on Tennessee State.
“We’ve put ourselves in this position and all we can do is control what we can control,” EKU coach Dean Hood said. “All we can do is prepare as well as we can for a really, really talented Murray team and play as hard as we can.”
Regardless of what else happens around the league in the next week, a loss to Murray State would end the Colonels’ title hopes and almost certainly make it impossible to get an at-large bid to the FCS Playoffs.
Last week, the Racers rallied late to knock off another OVC contender. Murray State scored the final 28 points and picked up a 49-28 win at home over Tennessee State (8-2, 4-2 OVC).
That loss dropped the Tigers to fourth place.
This year’s showdown between original OVC members will feature the league’s top defense and one of the best offenses in the nation.
Murray State is averaging 40.56 points and 498.11 yards a game, both of which rank sixth-best nationally (FCS). The Racers are also fifth in the nation in passing offense (362.44 yards a game).
Murray State has scored at least 49 points in six of its past seven games.
Quarterback Casey Brockman has thrown for 3,197 yards and 22 touchdowns this season. He had 537 yards and eight touchdowns in a loss to UT-Martin.
“They play their scheme really well,” Knowles said. “But, I feel like if we go out there and execute we will give them a good game and come out on top.”
The Colonels lead the OVC in scoring defense (21.5 points a game) and haven’t allowed more than 28 points to a conference opponent.
EKU limited Murray State to 33 points last season and picked up a one-point road win.
The Colonels have won seven straight against the Racers and lead the all-time series 42-25-4.
Depending on what happens around the league this week and next, this could be the final game for this senior class.
That group certainly left its mark.
T.J. Pryor will leave EKU as the school’s all-time passing leader (7,070 yards). Tyrone Goard (1,690 yards) is in the the school’ sTop 10 in career receiving yards and Denham is in EKU’s Top 10 in career rushing yards (3,021).
“They’ve got two rings and they’ve never finished lower than second,” Hood said of the senior class. “I told the guys that I just hope this isn’t the last four days that we are around them. They are just a joy to be around. They are a fun group.”