Eastern rewind: Panthers’ offense sputters in loss to Ohio Valley co-leader SEMO

Southeast Missouri running back Geno Hess (6) celebrates one of his three touchdown runs Saturday in Charleston against Eastern Illinois. (Photo by ESPN-Plus)

By Barry Bottino

Early in the second quarter Saturday in Charleston, Jaelin Benefield’s 4-yard touchdown run gave Eastern Illinois the lead.

Three minutes later, the lead – and Eastern’s offense – disappeared as Southeast Missouri ran off 31 consecutive points for a 31-7 Ohio Valley Conference victory at O’Brien Field.

Eastern (2-8 overall, 1-3 OVC) lost its fifth game in a row, matching the lowest EIU point total of the season and gaining only 100 total yards, its worst output of the fall.

Starting quarterback Dom Shoffner sustained a laceration to his throwing hand, leading the Panthers to use two freshmen – Justin Kowalak and Kevin Conway – in the second half. The duo combined to go 1-for-8 passing for nine yards.

In the second half, Eastern managed one first down and 24 total yards.

“We’ve got quite a few guys that are injured and banged up,” EIU head coach Chris Wilkerson said. “It’s next man up. We’ve got some youth in some spots, so there’s going to be some growing pains.”

SEMO running back Geno Hess, who entered the game as the ninth-leading rusher in FCS this season, powered his way to 198 yards and three touchdowns.

Two second-quarter interceptions by Shoffner led to a pair of SEMO touchdowns. Shoffner finished the day 2-for-11 passing.

Game changers

8:44, 2nd quarter: Hess bolted down the east sideline for a 31-yard TD run, his first of the day.

6:46, 2nd quarter: Three plays after Shoffner’s second interception of the day, Hess ran for a 10-yard score.

2:00, 3rd quarter: Freshman running back MJ Flowers gained 22 yards on second-and-10, the longest EIU offensive play of the day.

What it means

The Panthers lost their fifth game in a row and scored 17 or fewer points for the fourth consecutive week.

Primetime Panthers

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

Tre’Jon Lewis, DL: A redshirt sophomore, Lewis had nine tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and a forced fumble.

Jordan Vincent, S: The Lincolnshire native collected eight tackles and grabbed an interception, his third of the season.

MJ Flowers, RB: The freshman from Cincinnati was the Panthers’ most productive offensive player, rushing for 38 yards on eight carries.

What’s next?

The Panthers end the 2022 season Nov. 19 on the road against OVC co-leader UT Martin.

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