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A bitter battle of conferences
If you can be disappointed and happy at the same time, that would describe the mood of Eastern head coach Bob Spoo five days removed from Saturday’s season opener.
The task was tough, playing the No. 9 team in the nation in a hostile environment, and Eastern didn’t get off to a good start - trailing 21-0 in the first quarter.
The Panthers didn’t give up, despite the memory of the 52-3 loss to Penn State in everybody’s minds.
Senior linebacker Nick Nasti said the team did a good job of not giving up and convincing themselves that the game would be like the Penn State blowout.
The team put up a fight, which made Spoo happy.
“You certainly don’t prepare (for a game) to lose but we were pleased that our team competed the entire game,” Spoo said.
Spoo noticed many good things about the team against Iowa, including a good offensive line performance and poised quarterback play.
Now that the Iowa game is in the past, Eastern will have a test with Central Arkansas coming into O’Brien Field Saturday.
According to Spoo, Central Arkansas is from a conference (Southland) that has been more respected than the Ohio Valley Conference.
“Our goal is to beat this team so that at the end of the season people will be saying, ‘Oh, Eastern beat a team from the Southland Conference’,” Spoo said.
The Eastern coaching staff knows they have a different game Saturday, than they played against Iowa. Central Arkansas is a fast paced offense. Also, the personnel of Iowa and Central Arkansas are different.
“We expected what we got from Iowa last week,” offensive coordinator Roy Wittke said. “But Central Arkansas only returns three starters, and lost last year’s start player to the NFL.”
For the second week in a row, Eastern will be without its senior running back Mon Williams, who is still sidelined with a knee injury.
According to Wittke, the offense doesn’t expect Williams to play this weekend, especially because the Panthers want him healthy for OVC play.
“He’s still day-to-day,” Wittke said. “At his position (running back), with that injury, he’s just trying to be confident and sure of himself.”
Wittke and Spoo are confident in senior running back Jimmy Potempa’s ability to start the game, as he did against Iowa. Spoo said Potempa is one of the toughest football players on the team.
While Potempa was the only productive running back Saturday, according to Wittke, the Panthers have freshman Cam White. Wittke hopes to get White more involved this weekend.
“We have to gameplan some things for him because we believe he can be one of our more explosive players,” Wittke said.
This will be the first time Eastern plays Central Arkansas, but not the first time they are playing a team from the Southland Conference.
The Panthers are 0-3 against Southland Conference teams. In 1995, they played Stephen F. Austin and lost, 34-29. Also, they’ve played McNeese State twice, the last time being in 1993 to a 49-7 loss.
If the Panthers don’t have enough motivation trying to break the Southland Conference losing streak and earn the program, and the OVC, respect, they will also be in the presence of Sean Payton.
Payton will have his No. 18 jersey retired. Payton played for Eastern in the 1983-1986 seasons. Last year, Tony Romo had his jersey retired, and talked to the team before they took the field.
Nasti said he expects Payton to do something similar. But if he doesn’t, Nasti is excited just to be in the presence of a Super Bowl-winning head coach, and Eastern legend.
By Alex McNamee, The Daily Eastern News