EIU Dominates Football Awards, Moves Up In Poll, Takes on SIU Saturday

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Published on September 5 2013 1:07 pm
Last Updated on September 5 2013 1:07 pm
Written by Millie Lange

Eastern Illinois opened the season with a 40-19 win over Mountain West Conference opponent San Diego State Saturday night, the fifth victory for the Panthers over an FBS school. EIU held the Aztecs offense to one touchdown on a run reverse and four field goals. Jimmy Garoppolo passed for 361 yards and Taylor Duncan rushed for just under 100 yards in the victory.

Much like its football team did Saturday, Eastern Illinois dominated the Ohio Valley Conference weekly football awards released on Monday morning following a late OVC contest on Sunday. EIU won the offensive, defensive and special teams player of the week honors. The 40-19 victory was the second largest win by an OVC team over an FBS opponent in history.

The award winners for EIU were the Panthers offensive line as OVC Offensive Player of the Week, Alex McNulty as OVC Defensive Player of the Week and Shepard Little as OVC Special Teams Player of the Week.

The OVC Offensive Player of the Week award went to a unit of players for the first time in the history of the award as the Panthers offensive line was named the OVC Offensive Player of the week.  The starting group of Nick Borre (Center); Jimmy Lowery and Dominic Pagliara (tackles); Alex Pierce and Collin Seibert (guards) were given that honor after EIU’s opening game performance.  That unit helped keep EIU All-American quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo safe during the Panthers 40-19 victory as Garoppolo passed for 361 yards and three scores.  EIU did not allow a sack and only once during the game did a San Diego State defender knock Garoppolo to the ground during 46 pass attempts.  EIU gashed the top-ranked rush defense in the Mountain West Conference for 172 yards with two rushing touchdowns as the Aztecs returned nine starters on defense from a 9-4 team that played in the Poinsettia Bowl last year.  Borre and Lowery are both first year starters while Pagliara, Seibert and Pierce are starting together for the third straight season.  The last time an OVC offensive lineman won a weekly award in the OVC was in 1992 when the league named a lineman of the week.

McNulty helped the Panthers defensive backfield record four interceptions with another 11 pass break-ups during the Panthers 40-19 win over San Diego State as he was named the OVC Defensive Player of the Week.  McNulty picked off two of the passes himself picking up 51 return yards as he leads the FCS ranks in pass interceptions following week one.  He was named the Sports Network co-Defensive Player of the Week.  McNulty was part of the defensive unit that limited SDSU to only 19 points including one touchdown on a run reverse.  The other points came on four field goals.  He finished the game with five tackles and one tackle for loss as EIU’s defense had four sacks and 11 tackles for loss in the contest.

Little was named the OVC Special Teams Player of the Week as he made an impact during his first game in a Panthers uniform.  Little broke a punt return for a 60-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter to push EIU’s margin in the game to 33-19 en route to a 40-19 victory over the Aztecs.  It marked the first punt return for a touchdown by an EIU player since the 2010 season.  It marked only the seventh time in school history that a player has returned a punt for a touchdown for more than 50 yards.  Little also carried the ball ten times for 62 yards and returned one kickoff for 13 yards to finish with 161 yards of total offense.

Eastern Illinois was one of a handful of teams that moved up in the FCS Top 25 polls following a season opening win over an FBS opponent.  EIU beat San Diego State 40-19 on Saturday night to post the second largest margin of victory by an OVC school over an FBS school in conference history.

EIU climbed seven spots in both polls as they moved up to No. 14 in the Sports Network poll and No. 16 in the FCS Coaches poll.  EIU plays at Southern Illinois on Saturday with a 6 p.m. kickoff against the Salukis.  SIU lost 42-34 in its opener at Illinois as SIU had a chance to score inside the five yard line at the end of the game.

EIU is the only OVC team ranked in the Sports Network poll and is joined by Eastern Kentucky at No. 21 in the FCS Coaches poll.  The No. 14 spot is the highest in the polls for EIU since the final two weeks of the 2009 regular season when EIU climbed to No. 13.  EIU made the playoffs that season losing at No. 1 Southern Illinois in the opening round of the playoffs.

The Panthers home opener is Sept. 14 against Illinois State in the Mid-America Classic.  The Redbirds dropped in both polls following a season opening loss at Ball State.  ISU does not play this week as they are No. 19 in the Sports Network poll and No. 17 in the FCS Coaches poll.  Season and single game tickets are on sale for EIU by calling 217-581-2106 or online at www.eiupanthertickets.com

North Dakota State remained the No. 1 team in both FCS polls after beating Big 12 member Kansas State on Friday night.  Eastern Washington climbed to No. 2 in both polls as the Eagles knocked off FBS No. 25 ranked Oregon State on Saturday.  It marked only the third time that an FCS school has beaten a ranked FBS school.  Montana State and Sam Houston State were ranked No. 3 and No. 4 as they opened with victories over FCS opponents.  North Dakota State had 145 first place votes in the Sports Network poll and was a unanimous selection with all 26 first place votes in the FCS Coaches poll.  Eastern Washington had the other seven first place votes in the Sports Network voting.

Towson, which beat Connecticut, moved up to No. 5 in the Sports Network poll and No. 6 in the FCS Coaches poll.  The remainder of the Sports Network Top 25 included South Dakota State, Central Arkansas, Villanova, Northern Iowa and Georgia Southern in the top ten.  New Hampshire led the next ten schools followed by Cal Poly, Montana, Eastern Illinois, Richmond, Wofford, Stony Brook, McNeese State, Illinois State and James Madison.  The final five schools were Appalachian State, Northern Arizona, Lehigh, Coastal Carolina and Bethune-Cookman.   McNeese State the only newcomer to the Sports Network rankings after the Cowboys beat South Florida.  OVC members Eastern Kentucky and UT Martin were among the first few teams also receiving votes with EKU at No. 26 and UTM at No. 30.

The FCS Coaches Top 25 does not include Georgia Southern and Appalachian State this season as they transition to the FBS level.  Central Arkansas was the number five team in that poll followed by Towson, South Dakota State, New Hampshire, Northern Iowa and Cal Poly.  Villanova was 11th with Richmond, Stony Brook, Wofford, James Madison, Eastern Illinois, Illinois State, Montana, Lehigh, and McNeese State rounding out the top twenty.  Eastern Kentucky, Coastal Carolina, Bethune-Cookman, Northern Arizona and Youngstown State closed out the FCS Coaches Top 25 rankings.  

EIU must now turn its focus to in-state rival Southern Illinois, a team it beat 49-28 last season to begin the Dino Babers era. EIU is looking to start a season 2-0 for the first  time since 2009 when EIU opened the year at 4-0 en route to the OVC regular season title and FCS playoff appearance.        

Southern Illinois comes into the game at 0-1 after just falling short in its upset bid of Illinois.The Salukis rallied from down 39-17 with 5:30 left in the game to lose 42-34. EIU is ranked No. 14 and No. 16 in the FCS Top 25 pollsIt marks the eighth time the two schools have met when at least one of the teams in nationally ranked.

This will be the 68th meeting between Eastern Illinois and Southern Illinois as they two schools play the third game of a four year series. The final game of this contract  will be played next season on September 6 in Charleston.SIU holds a 41-25-1 all-time series lead including three wins over the Panthers in the FCS playoffs. EIU snapped a four-game Saluki win streak in the series with a 49-28 victory at O’Brien Field last year.

EIU’s last win in Carbondale was 2001 when Tony Romo led EIU to a 49-21 victory.