EIU Snaps Playoff Drought With Victory

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Published on December 9 2013 5:39 pm
Last Updated on December 9 2013 5:53 pm
Written by Millie Lange

CHARLESTON, Ill. - Eastern Illinois snapped a playoff drought that had lasted since the 1989 season as the No. 2 ranked Panthers jumped out to an early lead while cruising to a 51-10 FCS playoff second round victory over Tennessee State.

The Panthers will make their fourth FCS playoff quarterfinal appearance next weekend  Eastern Illinois and Towson will play under the lights at O'Brien Field on Friday night in the quarterfinals of the 2013 FCS playoffs.  The game will be televised nationally on ESPN2 with a 7 p.m. kick off. EIU is the No. 2 seed in the FCS playoffs and beat Tennessee State on Saturday afternoon to advance to the fourth quarterfinal in school history. Towson is the No. 7 seed in the FCS playoffs and beat Fordham on Saturday afternoon.

This will be the first meeting between the two schools that feature two of the three players invited to the Sports Network Awards Ceremony where the Walter Payton Award will be presented.  EIU is led by quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.  Towson is led by running back Terrance West.

Tickets for the FCS quarterfinal game will go on sale online on Sunday evening at www.eiupanthertickets.com  Tickets can be purchased in person or via the phone starting Monday morning by calling 217-581-2106.  The EIU ticket office will be open Monday through Thursday from 8:30 a.m. until 4 p.m.  Hours on Friday will be from 8 a.m. until 12 p.m.

EIU season ticket holders will have until Tuesday at 5 p.m. to secure their season location for tickets for this quarterfinal game.  EIU made previous FCS quarterfinal appearances in 1982, 1986 and 1989.

Eastern Illinois drove down the field on the opening possession with a scoring drive of 10 plays for 81 yards.  Taylor Duncan found the end zone from 3-yards out as EIU rushed for 313 yards on a day when game time temperature was listed at 21 degrees.

Tennessee State fumbled the ball on the EIU 44 yard line with the loose ball recovered by Pat Wertz.  The Panthers converted that turnover into a 25-yard Cameron Berra field goal as the turnover was a sign of things to come for the Tigers.  TSU fumbled the ball five times in the game with EIU recovering three of them.

Following a three and out by TSU on the next drive, EIU scored in 1:49 as Jimmy Garoppolo connected with Erik Lora for a 20-yard strike in the end zone.  Garoppolo, one of three invitees for the Walter Payton Award in Philadelphia on Dec. 16, finished the day with 240 yards passing and three touchdowns.  He now has 51 touchdown passes this season.

“Our offense has done a great job of letting us play with a lead this season,” said senior defensive back Pete Houlihan.  “Our number one job was to stop the run and we did that.”

The Panthers stuffed the TSU ground game all day allowing only 45 yards on the ground and 287 yards of total offense.  Tim Broughton was the leading rusher with 26 yards on 16 carries.  He did score TSU’s lone touchdown on a 7-yard run with 7:28 to play in the third quarter.

EIU built a 23-0 lead early in the second quarter as Garoppolo hit Jeff LePak for a 6-yard touchdown pass.  The Panthers special teams and two-minute offense then tacked on two more touchdowns in the final 2:15 of the first half to put EIU up 37-0 at the break.

D.J. Bland blocked a TSU punt that Anthony Goodman recovered at the 5-yard line and ran in for a touchdown.  It was the second defensive touchdown of the season for Goodman who scored earlier this year on a fumble return against Eastern Kentucky.  Garoppolo hit Adam Drake for a 4-yard touchdown pass with 26 seconds remaining in the half.

Shepard Little tacked on two second half touchdowns as he rushed for 184 yards.  Little scored on an 80-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter as the Panthers have now scored in 32 consecutive quarters.

“As we progress in this playoff is based on several factors.  Our offense is good, write that down.  We know our offense is good,” said EIU head coach Dino Babers.  “It is how our defense plays against the other team’s offense and how our special teams stacks up against their special teams that is going to determine how far we can advance.”