EIU Defense Clicking On All Cylinders

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Published on October 16 2012 5:13 pm
Last Updated on October 16 2012 5:13 pm
Written by Millie Lange

CHARLESTON, Ill. – On a day when the Eastern Illinois offense was not clicking on all cylinders, it was the Panthers defense that came up big during a 31-28 homecoming win over Jacksonville State on Saturday afternoon at O’Brien Field.

EIU improved to 4-3 overall, 3-1 in the OVC and will have an off week on Oct. 20.  JSU fell to 3-3 overall, 2-2 in the OVC.

Freshman Kamu Grugier-Hill appeared to have sealed the win for EIU when he intercepted a Marques Ivory pass with 2:22 left in the game and returned it to the JSU 29 yard line.  EIU was unable to get a first down as they went for it on 4th and 1 on a quarterback bootleg pass that was tipped at the line and intercepted by James Powell.

The Gamecocks then drove down the field without a timeout to use.  Ivory drove the ball to the EIU 16 setting up the final play of the game.  Ivory avoided a heavy EIU rush dumping the pass to Washaun Ealey.  Ealey was tackled by Grugier-Hill and JSU could not line up to snap the ball before time expired.

“Our defense came up with that big play at the end of the game,” head coach Dino Babers said.  “I thought we were going to sack the quarterback and give them one more play.  Then I saw him scramble and find the running back.  I thought it was a blessing when we tackled him inbounds because JSU did not have a timeout left and time ran out before they could set up a field goal.”

Grugier-Hill’s interception was the fifth turnover EIU’s defense forced in the win as they fell behind 14-0 before using turnovers to their advantage.

EIU had a bad punt following its first possession to set up JSU with a short field.  Ealey scored on a 1-yard run as he finished with 149 yards on the ground, the first running back to rush for more than 100-yards this season against EIU.

JSU’s second score came on a Coty Blanchard pass to Denzel Cheeks with 13:49 left in the second quarter.

Pat Wertz forced a fumble midway through the second quarter that Jourdan Wickliffe recovered at the bottom of the pile.  Jake Walker scored seven plays later to make it 14-7.  Walker rushed for 103 yards, his second straight 100-yard game.

EIU’s second touchdown came via the turnover as Tavares Crawford intercepted an Ivory pass and raced 39-yards for the score.  Cameron Berra knocked home a 43-yard field as time expired in the half to give EIU the 17-14 lead.

“We had a rough first quarter,” said Grugier-Hill.  “We just kept fighting and were able to get some turnovers.  I think those two plays may have been the biggest of my football career.”

Ealey put JSU back on top on the Gamecocks first drive of the second half after Telvin Brown set up JSU with good field position on a 64-yard kickoff return.  Taylor Duncan scored on the first play of the fourth quarter to put EIU back in front.

The two teams traded scores in the fourth quarter.  JSU scored on Ealey’s third rushing touchdown of the game.  The score was set up by a blocked punt by JSU’s Francis Duncan.  Special teams factored into the contest as JSU missed three field goals including one blocked by EIU.

The Panthers final score which proved to be the game winner was on a Jimmy Garoppolo pass to Chris Wright from 15-yards out with 3:36 left in the game.

“That was one of my biggest catches, especially since it comes in my senior year,” said Wright.  “I had some misses earlier in the game and the coaches still believed in me.  Jimmy delivered a great ball and we won over a good JSU team.”

Garoppolo passed for 220 yards going 26-of-51 with one touchdown and two interceptions.  Erik Lora had 11 receptions for 128 yards.  It was Lora’s seventh straight game with 100 yards receiving as he passed Jerry Wright for the EIU single season record for receptions.  Lora now has 83 receptions with four games remaining.

Ivory was 14-of-26 for 160 yards passing and three interceptions for JSU.  The Gamecocks out gained EIU 463 to 381 in total offense.  Rashad Smith (13) and Jermaine Hough (10) led JSU with double figure tackles.

EIU was led by Robert Haynes with ten tackles.  Wickliffe had eight tackles including the fumble recovery and one interception.

EIU Notes

Junior wide receiver Erik Lora had his seventh straight game with 100 yards.

Erik Lora’s 11 receptions moved him into first on the EIU career list with 83

83 receptions by Erik Lora ranks 5th on OVC single season list

Chris Wright touchdown was the 28th receiving touchdown of his career

Jake Walker rushed for more than 100 yards for the 3rd time this season (103 yards)

EIU five forced turnovers was the second highest total of the season (6 – SIU)

Tavares Crawford INT return for touchdown, first by EIU player since 2009