Tennessee State defeated Eastern Illinois for the third straight time in their Ohio Valley Conference series. (Photo by EIU Panthers Twitter account)
By Dan Verdun
Eastern Illinois played its worst first half of the season and dug a hole it couldn’t climb out of en route to a 37-17 Ohio Valley Conference loss Saturday at Tennessee State.
The Panthers (2-5 overall, 1-1 OVC) managed just 28 yards on 22 plays in the first half as Tennessee State (3-4, 2-0) exploded for 24 points in the second quarter and built a 27-0 lead.
“(We) didn’t play very well in the first half and put ourselves in a bad situation,” EIU head coach Chris Wilkerson said.
EIU — which has shuffled its offensive line and wide receiver corps due to injuries this season — did not get a first down until redshirt sophomore Jaelin Benefield moved the chains on a run just 24 seconds before halftime.
Meanwhile, Tennessee State ran 43 first-half plays for 233 yards — 210 of which were gained by passing.
Tennessee State essentially doubled up EIU in time of possession, 19:53-10:07, in that decisive first 30 minutes.
Dating back to 2019, Eastern went seven straight quarters without scoring against Tennessee State before finally reaching the end zone in the third period Saturday.
The Panthers showed life in the second half, pulling to within 27-14 late in the third quarter. Quarterback Jonah O’Brien threw touchdown passes to Nile Hill (29 yards) and Lazerick Eatman (20 yards).
“They (TSU) put up a lot of points in the first half, so we were trying to do the same thing in the second half,” Hill said. “We showed some fight.
“We had to wake up, (because) we started so slow. It was disappointing.”
However, Tennessee State then strung together a scoring drive that resulted in an early fourth quarter field goal that boosted its lead back to a comfortable margin.
The Tigers have won three consecutive games under head coach Eddie George.
“Obviously, we’ve got a lot of things to work on, myself too, to be victorious,” EIU safety Jordan Vincent said.
6:41, 2nd quarter: EIU running back Kendi Young fumbled inside his own 10-yard line. TSU scored two plays later, pushing its lead to 13-0.
4:26, 2nd quarter: TSU wide receiver Da’Shon Davis caught a pass from quarterback Draylen Ellis, broke tackles and fought his way for a 46-yard gain to the EIU 20. The explosive play led to another Tiger touchdown and a 20-point lead.
0:31, 2nd quarter: TSU running back Devon Starling split the Panther defense and hauled in a 49-yard touchdown catch down the middle of the field.
Prime Time Panthers
Prairie State Pigskin chooses the top three EIU players in the game:
Stone Galloway, K: The junior who prepped at downstate Althoff Catholic is 9-for-9 on field goal attempts this season following a 32-yarder Saturday. He also added two more extra points. Galloway has yet to miss a PAT this season.
Trey Wilhoit, P: The sophomore who transferred to EIU from Dodge City (Kan.) Community College in the spring punted seven times for a 44.3 average. Wilhoit had two punts over 50 yards.
Vincent, S: The Stevenson High School product had a game-high nine tackles — seven solo — with two pass breakups. The sophomore also had a tackle-for-loss.
EIU returns to Charleston to host Tennessee Tech Oct. 29 in an OVC matchup. Kickoff is 2 p.m.