Eastern rewind: McNeese ground game punishes Panthers, sends EIU to 4th straight loss

Deonta McMahon rushed for 211 yards and scored twice Saturday to help McNeese State beat EIU, 29-15. (Photo by McNeeseSports.com)

By Barry Bottino

Eastern Illinois hadn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher in eight consecutive games this season.

Until Saturday night, that is.

McNeese State senior running back Deonta McMahon needed less than two quarters to surpass the 100-yard barrier, racing to a career-high 211 yards while rushing and passing for a touchdown to help the Cowboys (2-7) roar past EIU, 29-15, in Lake Charles, La.

McNeese, despite playing most of the game with a walk-on quarterback after an injury to its starter, piled up 510 yards of total offense, the most allowed by EIU (2-7) since Jacksonville State’s 540 in an April 3, 2020, game in Charleston.

“Just still too many mistakes as a team for us to be on the positive side of the final score,” EIU head coach Chris Wilkerson said. “In the first half, it was our inability to convert on those conversion downs (on offense). Our tackling on defense, at times, was not as crisp as we’d like it to be.”

The loss was Eastern’s fourth in a row, as the Panthers played with several first-time starters and contributors because of injuries at multiple positions, including quarterback, wide receiver and offensive line. The contest was a rare late-season non-conference game and part of the Ohio Valley Conference scheduling alliance with the Southland Conference.

Eastern responded after falling behind 10-0 in the second quarter with a 26-yard scoring catch by senior tight end Jay Vallie from first-time QB starter Dom Shoffner.

The Panthers then gave up 19 unanswered points before closing the gap late in the fourth quarter when freshman Justin Bowick caught a 19-yard TD pass from Shoffner.

The EIU offense finished 4-for-12 on third down and was hampered by an inability to finish drives. On its nine drives, Eastern punted three times, turned the ball over on downs twice, was intercepted and had a field goal blocked.

Shoffner passed for 187 yards and two TDs, while also leading EIU on the ground with 66 yards. Bowick finished with career highs of five catches and 40 yards.

Game changers

2:15, 1st quarter: On a double pass play, McMahon threw a 33-yard TD to Jon McCall for a 10-0 McNeese lead.

10:05, 3rd quarter: EIU sophomore kicker William Orth had a 31-yard field goal attempt blocked with McNeese holding a 19-7 lead. Orth was filling in for Stone Galloway, who missed the game with an illness.

3:40, 3rd quarter: McMahon scored on a 3-yard run to put McNeese ahead by three scores.

What it means

Eastern lost its fourth game in a row after starting 2-3 this season. The Panthers finish the season with a rugged schedule, facing the OVC’s top two teams – Southeast Missouri and UT-Martin.

Primetime Panthers

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

Cooper Willman, wide receiver: The Sterling native posted career bests in receptions (seven) and receiving yards (82) for Eastern.

Tre’jon Lewis, defensive tackle: A transfer from Texas Tech, Lewis had three tackles for loss in the defeat.

Nick Coates, safety: The sophomore had a career-high 13 tackles, one more than fellow EIU safety Jordan Vincent.  

What’s next?

The Panthers host OVC leader Southeast Missouri (7-2 overall, 3-0 OVC) at 2 pm. Nov. 12 at O’Brien Field, which is Senior Day for Eastern.

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