By Nathan Hutchinson
Register Sports Editor
The Colonels were able to accomplish something that no other Ohio Valley Conference team has been able to do so far this season.
They slowed down the high-octane, record-breaking passing attack of Eastern Illinois.
EKU forced four turnovers (two interceptions) and held the Panthers to their second-lowest point total of the season Saturday at Roy Kidd Stadium.
Still, it wasn’t enough to pick up a victory in a crucial OVC showdown.
“If you told me that we were going to hold one of the top offenses in FCS football to 24 points and we were going to turn them over four times, I’d probably tell you that we were going to win by a lot,” EKU coach Dean Hood said. “But, it wasn’t that way.”
The Panthers (5-3, 4-1 OVC) scored 17 unanswered points in the second half and handed the No. 18 Colonels a 24-7 loss. Erik Lora caught a 15-yard pass with 12:08 left in the fourth quarter to seal the victory.
The victory moves the Panthers into three-way tie for first place with UT-Martin (6-2, 4-1) and Tennessee State (8-1, 4-1).
The loss drops the Colonels (6-3, 4-2) to fourth place with just two games left in the regular season.
“We’ve just got to go back to the little things,” EKU offensive lineman Justin Meredith said. “We need to start over and get back to the little things.”
The Panthers came into the game averaging more than 43 points a game (second-best in the FCS), 515 yards of total offense a game (also second in the FCS) and 378 yards passing a game (fifth in the FCS).
In four games against OVC opponents, Eastern Illinois had averaged 45 points a game, scoring at least 31 points in every game.
The Panthers turned the ball over on their first two possessions, including an interception by EKU’s Kevin Hamlin, and finished with just 286 yards passing and 437 yard of total offense.
“We executed our plan pretty well,” said EKU’s Brooklyn Fox, who had an interception in the second half. “We went in with a pretty good gameplan. We knew they were a hurry-up offense and the coaches put us in good position to make plays and give our offense the ball as much as possible.”
The Colonels’ offense was painfully ineffective.
EKU was just three-of-18 on third downs and finished with 81 yards rushing on 45 attempts. The Colonels came into the game averaging 201 yards on the ground a game and were converting 50.4 of their third-down chances (eighth in FCS).
“We didn’t convert on third down and we couldn’t run the ball,” Hood said.
EIU took a 7-0 lead on a 1-yard Jake Walker TD run with 36 seconds left in the first quarter.
The Colonels pulled even when Matt Denham capped a 9-play, 69-yard drive with a 4-yard TD run.
“For the past couple of weeks we’ve been putting goose eggs up in the first half and we can’t keep coming back when we are down 14 or 20 points, especially against an offense like that,” Denham said.
The Panthers took charge in the second half, marching down the field on a 16-play, 70-yard drive on their first drive. Taylor Duncan’s 1-yard run with 10:38 left in the third quarter put EIU in front for good.
Cameron Berra kicked a 41-yard field goal on the Panthers next possession to push the lead to 10 points.
“They were just more physical than us,” Denham said.
The Colonels had to rally from an eight-point fourth-quarter deficit last week at Tennessee Tech, but this time they couldn’t rally.
EKU got into Eastern Illinois territory twice in the second half, but couldn’t convert. The Colonels six second-half possessions resulted in four punts, a missed field goal and an interception.
EKU had just 132 yards of total offense in the second half.
“Our guys have been down 24 points with seven minutes left,” Hood said, referring to last year’s win at Jacksonville State. “So, I wasn’t really concerned. But, I got a little heightened sense of concern when we missed the field goal.”
The Colonels finished with just 284 yards of total offense, their second-lowest output of the season.
Senior quarterback T.J. Pryor was 19-of-34 passing for 203 yards. Tyrone Goard had seven catches for 118 yards and Denham had 95 yards rushing on 25 carries.
Lora set a new OVC single-season record for pass receptions (93) on his fourth-quarter touchdown catch. Samford’s Efrem Hill held the previous mark (92) which was set in 2003.
The Colonels had won five straight against Eastern Illinois. The Panthers had not won a road game this season.
EKU is set to return to action Saturday at Southeast Missouri State.