Eastern-Western game marks the end of an era

RICHMOND — Eastern Kentucky football coach Dean Hood won't say Saturday night's game between his Colonels and Western Kentucky will be the last in the storied series known as the Battle of the Bluegrass.

"But it will be the last time we'll play in Roy Kidd Stadium, with (the Hilltoppers) going up a level," Hood said.

"We'll have a lot of guys who played in this game sitting in the stands. They'll be telling us to make sure we get it done. There will be a lot of motivated people on the field and in the stands."

Saturday's game (kickoff at 6 p.m.) will be the last in the current four-year contract between the rivals who first played each other in 1914.

The 2008 game is all that matters this week. And everyone associated with the series has their memories of Eastern-Western.

Hood is in his first year as Eastern's head coach, but he was an EKU defensive assistant from 1994-98.

Hood recalled working on the Western game plan with other aides when Roy Kidd, the head coach, walked in the room.

"You could tell there was something different about that week," Hood said. "(Kidd, a former All-American at Eastern) was more passionate in the weeks we played Western. You could feel it and see it in the way he talked and the way he walked. You figured it out, you understood what the deal was."

Hood was on the staff when the Colonels lost twice to the Toppers in one season, 1997. Western won the second game of the season (37-21) and in the first round of the Division I-AA playoffs (42-14).

"That was a stinging, but I have fonder memories of the year after the playoffs," Hood said. "But it was a long wait till that game. I remember how we felt. We were highly motivated players and coaches."

Western successfully ran the triple option during those years.

"We had a good plan, and at halftime they were low-scoring games," Hood recalled. "We felt we were playing good defense."

But adjustments are easy to make in the triple option, Hood explained, and Western's changes at intermission led to easy victories.

"We learned our lesson," Hood said. "The next year, we saved our defense for the second half."

Eastern won 27-16 in 1998.

By the next year, Hood was the secondary coach at Ohio. From 2001-2007, he was secondary coach and defensive coordinator at Wake Forest.

He returned to Eastern in January and quickly saw the excitement growing in Bowling Green.

Western is in the second of two transition years from the Football Championship Subdivision to the Bowl Subdivision.

The Hilltoppers will compete for the Sun Belt Conference title next year and by league rule cannot play lower-subdivision schools on the road.

"It's a shame (the rivalry) will fade," Hood said. "In a big game you don't have to coach hard. The players know what the deal is."