Eastern rewind: Panther Homecoming spoiled by double-overtime loss

Junior college transfer linebacker Alexander Oyawale (11) celebrates his 40-yard fumble return for a touchdown. (Photo by Dominic Balma, EIU Athletics)

By Dan Verdun

Eastern Illinois’ Homecoming turned into a “Welcome to Ohio Valley Conference football” celebration for Lindenwood University — even if the game didn’t count in the league standings.

The visiting Lions (4-2) slipped past the Panthers (2-4) 37-34 in double overtime Saturday at O’Brien Field in Charleston.

Lindenwood, located in St. Charles, Mo., moved up to Division I status and joined the Ohio Valley this season. Although EIU is also a member of the OVC, the game did not count in the league standings due to a late scheduling change.

Lindenwood ran 94 plays and rolled up 501 yards in total offense despite turning the ball over four times and allowing five sacks. Quarterback Cade Brister passed for 302 yards and three touchdowns, earning OVC Offensive Player of the Week honors.

“My hat’s off to Lindenwood. Their quarterback is certainly everything we’d seen the week before (on film) and throughout his career,” EIU head coach Chris Wilkerson said.

Eastern ran 57 plays for 320 yards. The Panthers passed for 195 yards and rushed for 125.

“We always talk each week about one side of the ball might need to pick the other one up,” Lindenwood head coach Jed Stugart said. “I was so proud how our defense responded this week.”

Game changers

11:30, 1st quarter: After Eastern had intercepted Brister and driven just outside the red zone, Panther running back Markenzy Pierre fumbled the ball away after a 6-yard gain.

2nd OT: On a third-and-7 from the 8-yard line, Lindenwood’s Lloyd Lockett stopped EIU receiver Nile Hill at the 5. EIU settled for a Stone Galloway 22-yard field goal, putting the Panthers up 34-31 but opening the door for a Lion victory.

2nd OT: On a third-and-4 from the 9-yard line, Brister found Kobe Smith for the game-winning touchdown.

What it means

The loss snapped EIU’s two-game winning streak, the Panthers’ first since 2017.

Prime Time Panthers

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

Alexander Oyawale, LB: The junior registered five tackles — four solo — and a sack. He had two quarterback hurries and a forced fumble. Oyawale returned another fumble 40 yards for a touchdown.

“It felt magical. It felt like Usain Bolt on the track,” Oyawale said of the TD return.

He was named OVC Defensive Player of the Week.

Trey Wilhoit, P: The sophomore averaged 43 yards per punt, including a 59-yarder.  He also pinned a punt inside the 1-yard line. Wilhoit, who ranks 14th in the FCS in punting average at 43.4 yards per punt, was named Co-OVC Specialist of the Week. Wilhoit has won the award twice this season.

DeAirious Smith, WR: The sophomore caught five passes for 73 yards, including a 13-yard touchdown. Smith’s longest catch was 38 yards.

What’s next?

The Panthers play Tennessee State Oct. 22 in Nashville.  The OVC game begins at 2 p.m.

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