EIU Opens With Big Victory


Published on August 31 2012 6:12 am
Last Updated on August 31 2012 6:12 am
Written by Millie Lange

CHARLESTON -- The New ERA of Eastern Illinois football opened Thursday night with the Panthers setting a school record with seven team touchdown passes during a 49-28 win over Southern Illinois.  It was the first game for new EIU head coach Dino Babers.

Jimmy Garoppolo accounted for five of those touchdown passes finishing the day 32-of-49 for 369 yards.  Garoppolo hooked up with Erik Lora twice, Jake Walker, Chris Wright and Sam Hendricks for the five scores.

"Jimmy led us well tonight," said Babers following the performance.  "He did a fabulous job out there with more than 350 yards passing."

Each team scored in the first quarter as Hendricks found Watkins on a wide receiver pass from 40-yards out with 9:32 to play.  Lora had a 24-yard pass to Wright with 4:32 left in the third quarter.

SIU's first score was on a Mika'il McCall 6-yard run with 3:35 left in the first.  McCall scored three of SIU's four touchdowns.  He had a 74-yard pass from Kory Faulkner in the second and 6-yard run in the third.  McCall rushed for 56 yards with 90 yards receiving.

EIU led 28-21 at the half as Lora had a touchdown reception in the second.  Walker and Wright added touchdown grabs.  McCall tied the game at 28-28 on the Salukis first drive of the second half.

The Panthers responded with a drive ending with Garoppolo hitting Lora from 11-yards out with 9:22 left in the third quarter.  Lora finished with 13 catches for 151 yards and two touchdowns.

"Erik played the way he practices.  He works hard," said Babers.  "Erik plays like its going to be his last play of football each play."

"We are a different team than we were last year," said Garoppolo.  "We have a different mind set.  The guys did a great job of getting open tonight and I just had some good reads."

EIU tacked on two more scores in the third quarter with Wright catching a pass from Lora and Hendricks hauling in a pass from Garoppolo with 1:58 left to play.

The Panthers had 51 total passes and 522 yards of offense as they will play at Western Michigan next Saturday at 6 p.m.

EIU's defense forced six turnovers with two interceptions by Pete Houlihan and DJ Bland and four forced fumbles.  Robert Haynes had a team high nine tackles.  Nick Beard added eight.

The Panthers turned away the Salukis inside the ten yard line with 8:47 left in the game as they forced three incomplete passes by Faulkner.  Faulkner was 31-of-58 for 293 yards.

"I'm happy about how our guys fought and the energy our guys played with," added Babers.

Babers becomes only the third EIU coach to win their first game as a Panthers head coach since the early 1900's.  Two of the previous ones were Darrell Mudra in 1978 and Al Molde in 1983.  The one prior to that was Winfield Angus back in 1935.

Garoppolo's five touchdown passes tie him for third most in a single game in EIU history.  Lora's 13 receptions are the most by an EIU receiver since the wide out caught ten in 2010 at UT Martin.  Garoppolo's 369 yards are a career high.