The Richmond Register

September 29, 2013

OVC FOOTBALL: Turnovers prove costly in 42-7 Colonels loss

By Nathan Hutchinson
Register Sports Editor

RICHMOND — The Panthers’ high-octane offense certainly hasn’t needed any help getting in the end zone and putting points on the board.

After all, they came into their Ohio Valley Conference opener leading the nation — among FCS schools — in total offense (617.8 yards) and passing offense (435 yards a game), while averaging more than 44 points a game.

Still, the Colonels made things a lot easier for that dynamic offense on Saturday at O’Brien Field.

EKU had four turnovers in the first half, which led to 14 points and set the stage for an early-season showdown of OVC favorites into a blowout. The Panthers (4-1, 1-0 OVC) raced out to a 35-0 halftime lead and rolled to a stunningly easy 42-7 win over the Colonels (2-3, 0-1 OVC).

The Colonels avoided their first shutout loss in six years by getting a Caleb Watkins 3-yard TD run with 3:33 left in the fourth quarter.

“It’s very disappointing for us, especially against an OVC opponent and knowing that beating them would be a big jump in our confidence,” Watkins said. “We came out and we were moving the ball. You just can not turn the ball over that many times.”

The Colonels were able to slow down the EIU’s record-setting offense last year when the teams met at Roy Kidd Stadium. The Panthers still picked up a 24-7 win that catapulted them to an OVC title, but they were limited to a season-low 81 yards rushing and their offense was kept in check — at least somewhat.

This time around, Eastern Illinois punted on its first possession then got into the red zone on five-straight drives.

“This is about turnovers.” EKU linebacker Ichiro Vance said. “It really is. Eventually its going to take its toll on defense. We let them score that much, so we have to share the blame for that. It comes down to mental errors. Missed tackled and blown coverages.”

EIU senior quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo had three touchdowns and threw for 322 yards.

In the win, he passed Tony Romo for most touchdown passes in OVC history (88) and also set a new league mark for total passing yards (10,159).

The Colonels marched right down the field on their first possession, going 44 yards on nine plays, including 14 and 13-yard receptions by Devin Borders. That drive ended when Jared McClain’s pass was tipped and intercepted on the EIU 14-yard line.

The Panthers scored seven plays later on a 30-yard pass from Garoppolo to Keiondre Gober.

On EKU’s next possession, J.J. Jude broke loose for a 31-yard gain, but had the ball stripped from behind and the Panthers recovered on their own 15-yard line.

“We were down (around) the red zone three times in the first half and if we do what we are supposed to do its 28-17 at halftime,” EKU coach Dean Hood said. “Then we could go out in the second half and be in the ballgame. But, instead it’s a blowout.”

The Colonels punted three-straight times before quarterback Kyle Romano was intercepted at the EIU 40-yard line with less than two minutes left in the second quarter.

“Both the interceptions were tipped passes,” Hood said. “It’s unfortunate, but that’s college football.”

The Panthers got in the end zone four times in the second quarter, including a 1-yard run by Taylor Duncan, a 5-yard pass by wide receiver Erik Lora to Ryan Meyer and a 21-yard pass from Garopplo to Jeff LePak.

But, the biggest blow come just before the half.

McClain scrambled out of the pocket and tried to fight through a series of defenders. He eventually fumbled and Anthony Goodman picked up the ball and raced 70 yards for a touchdown that gave the Panthers an almost insurmountable lead.

“It’s on us,” Watkins said. “We just have to adjust when things happen.”

Borders blocked a field goal — his second of the game — early in the fourth quarter, but Garoppolo struck again moments later, hitting Gober on a 40-yard touchdown pass.

“I don’t know how to explain it,” EKU defensive lineman David Carter said. That’s the third game (this year that) we’ve given up that many points. Even when the offense isn’t at its best, we’ve still got to perform.”

The Panthers took most of their starters out after that and still finished with 519 yards of offense and 25 first downs.

The Colonels had just 266 yards of offense — their second-lowest output of the season.

Jude finished with 69 yards rushing on nine carries. McClain was 10-of-21 for 84 yards with an interception. Borders and Glover both caught a team-best three catches.

The Colonels are set to take on Austin Peay next Saturday at Roy Kidd Stadium in their home OVC opener.

“We can’t just crumble and fall because of one game,” Vance said.