3 things we learned: Eastern’s inconsistency proves costly in 21-20 loss
today at 6:04 pm
Six days before his team took the field at Tennessee State, Adam Cushing said, “we’ve got to play consistently. That’s the separation between winning and losing.”
Cushing, the Eastern Illinois head coach, proved prophetic Sunday as the Panthers stalled in the second half and lost, 21-20, in Nashville after building a two-touchdown halftime lead.
The winning margin was secured when TSU kicker Antonio Zita – who connected on a 62-yard field goal with 4 minutes remaining in the game – booted a 35-yarder on the game’s final play.
EIU (0-3 overall, 0-3 Ohio Valley Conference) piled up 186 first-half yards and pulled ahead 17-3 on the Tigers behind true freshman Otto Kuhns, who made his first career start at quarterback.
Kuhns, the first true freshman to start at QB for the Panthers since Jimmy Garoppolo in 2010, threw touchdown passes of 4 and 13 yards to superback Jay Vallie in the second quarter. Kuhns finished 19-for-30 passing for 145 yards.
Eastern gained only 124 yards and scored three points in the second half — a 37-yard Stone Galloway field goal that gave the Panthers a 20-18 lead with 41 seconds remaining in the game.
But the EIU defense gave up a 48-yard pass from Isaiah Green to Cam Wyche on the next play to put the Tigers in position for the game-winning field goal.
Here are three things Prairie State Pigskin learned from Sunday’s game:
- Run game gets going
Eastern gained 165 yards on the ground, led by sophomore Jaelin Benefield’s career-best 120-yard game on 16 carries. In the first two games of the season, EIU gained only 183 yards rushing.
In the second quarter, Benefield gained 60 yards thanks to his longest gain of the day, a 30-yarder. He had only one run for negative yards in the game.
2. Big plays prove costly
While rallying in the second half, TSU had five plays of 15 yards or more against the EIU defense. None was bigger, of course, than the 48-yard pass play down the sideline that set up the winning field goal. The Tigers also had four other second-half gains of 34, 27, 22 and 17 yards that helped TSU get back in the game.
3. Young players shine on defense
The biggest efforts on the EIU defense came from a number of young players.
Freshman defensive end Jordan Miles forced a fumble on a strip sack that sophomore Anthony Shockey recovered in the second quarter. Sophomore linebacker Jason Johnson led all players with 14 tackles, while freshman linebacker Colin Bohanek had nine stops.
What’s up next?
EIU hosts Tennessee Tech at 1 p.m. Sunday, March 21 in Charleston.