CHARLESTON, Ill. - The Tennessee Tech football team rallied from a 20-point second-half deficit, but couldn't overcome five turnovers, as the Golden Eagles fell to No. 25 Eastern Illinois 23-15 in Charleston, Ill, Saturday.
"We played one of the best teams in the league on the road, and we were right there with a chance to win at the end of the game," Tennessee Tech head coach Watson Brown said. "I'm proud of us for hanging in there, I thought we showed a lot of resilience, but we have got to play a lot better than this at home or on the road."
Colin Allen led Tech with six receptions for 80 yards and a touchdown. Dontey Gay got 46 of his 64 rushing yards on one carry, but Tech's running game never got off the ground as the Golden Eagles rushed for just 78 yards.
Lee Sweeney completed 19-of-46 passes for 198 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions in the game. Gay caught four passes for 34 yards, and Henry Sailes, who played for the first time since Sept. 19 after suffering an ankle injury, had three catches for 23 yards.
Taron Ryce put together a great performance defensively for the Golden Eagles. He finished with eight tackles, including one sack. He also had an interception, three pass breakups, and hurried EIU quarterback Jake Christensen to force an incompletion on a key third-down play in the fourth quarter.
"We just had to go out there and play our game and try to take away the things that they like to do," Ryce said. "We knew we had to get some turnovers to stay in the game. EIU has a great team, in order to stay in the game we had to get the ball back for our offense."
Kelechi Ordu led Tech with 12 tackles, including 1.5 tackles-for-loss. Caleb Mitchell had an interception for the Golden Eagles.
Neither team took particularly good care of the football in the game. Both quarterbacks threw two interceptions, and the Golden Eagles fumbled six times, losing three of them.
"We just didn't play well," Brown said. "It was by far our worst game of the year in all phases of the game. We didn't take care of the ball. We're not capable of winning when we do that."
EIU got the scoring started early when a Tech's Tremain Hudson lost a fumble on the second play of the game, setting the Panthers up at Tech's 34 yard-line. They would convert that opportunity into a field goal, and take an early 3-0 lead. EIU would find the endzone late in the first quarter when Christensen hooked up with Chris Wright for a touchdown.
The Panthers were able to move the ball throughout much of the first half, but had to settle for three more field goal attempts, two of which were blocked and one that missed short. Travis Adkins blocked one attempt, and Tech got credit as a team for the second block.
On the first drive of the second half the Panthers would add to their lead, going on a 12-play 56-yard touchdown drive that ate up over six minutes of clock and gave them a 17-0 lead. EIU would add a field goal to go up 20-0 before Tech began its comeback.
The Golden Eagles got their break after Jason Lenartz's second 69-yard punt of the game pinned the Panthers at their own two-yard line. On the next play EIU running back Mon Williams was tripped up in his own endzone for a safety, making the score 20-2. Lenartz punted five times and averaged 50.2 yards-per-punt.
The Golden Eagles would take advantage on their next possession, scoring a touchdown when Sweeney found Alden Olverson for a 29-yard touchdown pass. A missed PAT made the score 20-8.
Tech's defense held, and the Golden Eagles got the ball back, and found the endzone again. This time Sweeney connected with Allen for an 11-yard touchdown pass which capped a six-play, 70-yard drive that took only a minute and 43 seconds off the clock. That score put Tech behind 20-15 with 3:54 to play.
After EIU added a field goal Maurico Wallace took the ensuing kickoff 81 yards to EIU's 18 yard-line with Tech needing a touchdown and a two-point conversion to tie. But after completing a four-yard pass to Hudson, Tech ran out of downs, allowing the Panthers to run off the final 12 seconds off the clock.
The Golden Eagles fall to 3-3 overall and 2-2 in Ohio Valley Conference play. Tech will return home for the next two weeks as Southeast Missouri will provide the opposition for the Golden Eagles on Oct. 24, before Tennessee State visits Cookeville for Tech's Homecoming on Oct. 31. For ticket information contact the Tennessee Tech ticket office at 372-3940.