Illinois State rewind: Redbirds continue their rivalry dominance, retain traveling trophy

Redshirt freshman Jeff Bowens celebrates his interception-turned-touchdown in Illinois State’s win over Eastern Illinois. (Photo by

By Dan Verdun

NORMAL — Coming off a slim victory over non-scholarship Valparaiso, Illinois State head coach Brock Spack said he wanted a better performance out of his team. The 14th-year ISU head coach certainly got that and more.

Spack’s Redbirds (2-1) breezed to a 35-7 victory over the Eastern Illinois (0-3) in the annual Mid-America Classic Saturday night at Hancock Stadium.

“We didn’t expect that kind of game. We were expecting a tight game,” Spack said of the win. “This is the response I was hoping for.”

ISU’s win means the Redbirds lead the all-time series 59-42-9; Spack holds a 9-4 record against the Panthers in his 14-year tenure.

The Redbirds — already without Cole Mueller, their leading rusher from a year ago — lost running back Wenkers Wright in the first half against EIU. The redshirt freshman was seen on the sidelines with his right arm in a sling after just two carries for nine yards.

“It’s a grade two (shoulder) sprain,” Spack said. “He’ll be out a couple weeks.”

Game changers

9:10, 2nd quarter: Illinois State appeared to be stopped for no gain on a 4th-and-1 run at the Panther 48, only to have the play erased by an illegal substitution penalty against EIU.

With the drive kept alive, ISU ended up scoring a touchdown on a Zack Annexstad 30-yard pass to redshirt freshman Daniel Sobkowicz to grab a 14-7 lead.

1:09, 2nd quarter: EIU quarterback Jonah O’Brien’s pass was tipped by ISU’s Jeremiah Jordan and wound up in the hands of Jeff Bowens, who returned it 40 yards for a touchdown. The extra point gave the Redbirds a 21-7 halftime lead.

12:16, 3rd quarter: ISU scored its second Pick 6 of the game as defensive back Deandre Lamont grabbed a tipped ball by linebacker Zeke Vandenburgh and returned it three yards for a score.

What it means

Illinois State has now won five straight games in the Mid-America Classic rivalry. The Redbirds have won seven of the last eight and eight of the last 11 in the series.

Best ‘Birds

Prairie State Pigskin chooses the top three ISU players in the game:

Vandenburgh. LB: The redshirt senior who entered the transfer portal only to return to ISU last off-season led the Redbirds with eight tackles, three TFLs, two quarterback hurries, a sack and a fumble recovery.

J’Kalon Carter, WR: The sophomore had four receptions for 56 yards and scored ISU’s first touchdown. He also reeled in a 31-yard catch.

Annexstad, QB: The Minnesota transfer passed for 212 yards with two touchdowns. He also ran for a TD.

What’s next?

Illinois State enters its bye week while preparing for its Oct. 1 Missouri Valley Football Conference opener with Southern Illinois. The Salukis (1-2) defeated Northwestern 31-24 Saturday in Evanston.

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