In a controlled format that pitted the offense against the defense for about 100 plays, the defense outscored the offense 27-20. The defense got one point for every drive it stopped, plus three points for each of its two interceptions; offensive scoring was consistent with regular football rules.
It was a confidence builder for a unit that ranked near the bottom of the Ohio Valley Conference in most categories and gave up almost 30 points per game last season.
"Our defense has got a lot of heart," Eastern coach Danny Hope said. "They took some lumps last year, and they played through some difficult situations. I'm proud of the way they stuck together ... and I think we're going to have a much better defensive unit."
"I really liked the enthusiasm they played with and the confidence they played with."
Offense wanted to help defense develop
Sophomore wide receiver Matt Miller, a Boyle County High School graduate and one of two area products playing for the Eastern offense, said the offense wanted to succeed but also wanted to help the defense develop.
"The defense has really stepped up," Miller said. "It was kind of a goal for the offense to really help our defense come along, and as you can see, they took a step forward today."
The offense, playing with a line depleted by injuries, reached the end zone three times, the last on what was supposed to be the final drive of the game.
"I wanted to give the offense a chance to win, so I went over to the defensive captains and asked them if they were willing to go back out there, and they said, 'Absolutely,'" Hope said.
The charged-up defense stopped the offense four more times, ending the play with a tackle for loss.
"They come to play pretty much every day, and they came to play today," said tight end Patrick Bugg, a Harrodsburg High School product.
Strong wind, weak line hurt passing game
The Colonels' passing game struggled thanks to a strong wind and a weak line. Most of the offensive linemen were lacking in experience, as many of the first-team linemen were injured this spring.
"Hats off to those young guys who played up front," Hope said. "It was a struggle for them, but it's something that later we're going to come back and reap benefits from a couple years down the road."
The offense didn't get a first down until its seventh series, and the first half ended with six defensive stops on downs, two interceptions and only one score, a 27-yard touchdown pass from Matt Guice to Jeff Barrett.
"There weren't as many big plays or as many fireworks early on as we'd like to have," Hope said. "Maybe we should have tried to establish the run a little more."
There was better ball movement in the second half, when Guice threw touchdown passes of 50 yards to Lewon Lurry and 15 yards to Quinton Williams.
Guice, the OVC's second-leading passer as a junior last season, was 17-for-35 for 211 yards with one interception. Junior tailback C.J. Hudson had 78 yards rushing on 24 carries.
Bugg caught two passes
Bugg caught two passes for 9 yards, hauling in the first ball thrown by freshman Klay Koester for a 6-yard gain and a 3-yard pass from Guice in the second half.
"I got a lot of experience today," Bugg said. "We only have two tight ends right now, so I mainly wanted to see if I could last the whole game."
Miller had no catches. He worked primarily with the second-team offense in the first half but was used with all units in the second half.
"The coaches have been working with me a whole lot, because my routes have needed to change for this offense," Miller said.
Elias Israel had three sacks to lead the defense, while Cardius Dowell and Mark Cristiani had two each. Chad Dewberry and James Gaines had one interception each.