By Rob Schabert, Assistant Athletic Director for Sports Information
CHARLESTON, Ill.. – Tennessee Tech faced the best team in the Ohio Valley Conference and second-ranked in the nation Saturday. The Eastern Illinois Panthers, in fact, could be one of the best teams ever in the OVC.
Eastern Illinois (8-1/5-0 OVC), directed by quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, rolled up 552 yards of offense and also scored twice on long punt returns in handing the visiting Golden Eagles a 56-21 loss on O'Brien Field.
Garoppolo was 33-for-50 for 399 yards and four touchdowns. Erik Lora caught 12 passes for 119 yards and three of the scores, while Keiondre Gober had five catches for 129 yards and the other score.
The Golden Eagles (3-7/0-5 OVC) answered with 281 yards of total offense, including 183 passing yards and three touchdowns by redshirt freshman quarterback Jared Davis, who came off the bench in relief of starter Darian Stone. Krys Cates had three catches for 32 yards including a 15-yard TD, while Eric Belew grabbed two passes for 72 yards, both resulting in touchdowns.
Malcolm Mitchell led the Golden Eagle defense with nine tackles, while Jay Rudwall added eight stops. Sophomore Patrick Prewitt got the ball twice on turnovers, first on an interception that led to Tech's first TD, followed by a fumble recovery that set up Tech's second score.
Shepherd Little had a 75-yard punt return in the first quarter that made it 21-0, and in the third quarter, Lora broke loose for an 80-yard punt return to make it 49-7.
The Golden Eagles play their final road contest of the season next week when they visit Southeast Missouri on Saturday. Kickoff in Houck Stadium is set for 1 p.m.
* EIU (7-1/3-0 OVC) has the top-ranked offense in the nation, directed by senior quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who ranks first in the country in total offense and passing.
* Tech's strength this season has been its defense, so the Golden Eagles are hoping to find a way to slow down the high-powered Panthers on their home field. Tra'Darius Goff and Marty Jones rank first and second in the OVC in tackles, and will be called upon Saturday to make a difference.
* One aspect of the contest where Tech (3-6/0-5 OVC) has a distinct advantage is in the kicking game. Placekicker Zach Sharp has been perfect on his PAT attempts and is 7-for-10 in field goals. Punter Chad Zinchini leads the OVC and ranks second in the nation in punting average.
* The Golden Eagles are clad in the white uniforms with the Eagle trim that were unveiled last year at Oregon. Tech is wearing the new metallic purple helmets.
* Tech's game captains are Seth McDonald, Cory McDonald, Jerry King and Lamar Moore.
* Tech wins coin toss and defers to second half.
FIRST QUARTER NOTES:
* After giving up one first down, the Golden Eagles force a turnover. Austin Tallant hits Garrapolo for the sack and forces the fumble, and Jimmy Laughlin recovers in EIU territory.
* Tech offense doesn't move, and Chad Zinchini's first punt is 40 yards. EIU stars at it's own 19 following a short return by Erik Lora.
* Panthers strike first as Garoppolo hits Lora with a fade to the corner of the end zone for a five-yard touchdown. The PAT makes it 7-0 with 9:03 to play in the first quarter. The drive covered 81 yards in 10 plays and took 2:40.
* Golden Eagles begin at their own 34 following a kick return by Cody Forbes. Stone weaves and bobs, and avoid several tackles for a 12-yard gain and Tech's initial first down of the game. Fourth-and-one at the EIU 46, and Zinchini enters to punt. The kicks hits one-yard deep into end zone for a touchback.
* EIU faces fourth-and-two and converts at the Tech 25. Big plays by linebacker Jay Rudwall halt the Panthers on back-to-back plays, and forces the Panthers into a fourth-and 14 situation. They choose to go for it, and Garoppolo finds Lora with a strike over the middle for a 29-yard touchdown. PAT makes it 14-0 with 2:15 remaining in the first quarter. The scoring drive is 80 yards and takes 13 plays, using 4:21 off the clock.
* Garoppolo is 14-for-18 for 185 yards and two TDs in the first quarter.
* Golden Eagle offense loses yardage and Zinchini is asked to punt. This time he unloads a 57-yard kick, but Shepherd Little brings it back all the way for a 75-yard return and touchdown. That makes it 21-0 with 35 seconds to go in the first quarter.
* Stone picks up three yards on the final play of the quarter. Total offense after one period: EIU 181, Tech -2.
SECOND QUARTER NOTES:
* Stone hits Jordan Smith for a 15-yard completion and first down in EIU territory at the 42. Zinchini's punt hits at the one and Tech narrowly misses downing it before it goes into the end zone.
* Garoppolo's pass over the middle is tipped by two Tech defenders, but floats into the hands of Keiondre Gober, who takes in untouched 79 yards for a touchdown. PAT makes it 28-0 with 11:17 to play in the half. 80-yard scoring drive in two plays. When things are going well.......
* For the fourth time in the game, EIU kicks off short. The Panthers have yet to kick deep to Ladarius Vanlier.
* Luke Woodason makes a spectaculr defensive play, leaping in front of the receiver on a long pass, and makes what appears to be an interception. When he crashes to the turf, however, the ball is jarred loose and rules an incomplete pass. Woodaso is injured on the play, and helped off the field by Tech's medical staff. He appears to be holding his arm and walking on his own.
* On the very next play, Patrick Prewitt leaps and makes a one-handed interception of Garoppolo's pass, and returns it 20 yards to the Panther 15.
* Jared Davis takes over at quarterback, and on his first snap steps up in the pocket and fires a strike over the middle to a wide open Krys Cates for a touchdown. Zack Sharp's PAT makes it 28-7. Sharp has now scored 187 career points, pulling to within three points of Ryan Weeks in eighth place in career scoring. Davis now has seven TD passes and five interceptions. It was Cates' third TD grab of the year.
*Third-and-five, but Golden Eagles called for offsides when Jordan Johnson thinks the center moves. Johnson absolutely LEVELS the center. First down EIU.
* Golden Eagles not backing down. Johnson with a tremndous hit on the ball carrier for the tackle. Third-and-five again for EIU. Rudwall knocks down the pass intended for Lora, and EU will punt for the first time, this from the Tech 45. Vanlier FINALLY gets the ball in his hands but only by making a fair catch at the Tech 10.
* Davis hits Vanlier on a short pass, and he races 18 yards and out of bounds at the Tech 28. Tech faces third and six at the 32. Davis' pass falls short of his intended receiver, and Zinchini will punt into the wind. His kicks sails over Lora's head, but the receiver goes back and fields it. Tech has him trapped along the sidelines, but somehow he breaks free and goes all the way for a touchdown.....but wait. A flag. Holding on the return back at the 40, so it's marked at the EIU 28.
* Bad snap sails off Garoppolo's hand, but right into the hands of ruingback Taylor Duncan. On the next play, another bad snap. This time, Garoppolo retreats and fields it, then throws it out of bounds, forcing a fourth down and EIU punt.
* Punt fools Vanlier as he calls for a fair catch, and he awkwardly tries to catch it at eye level. He fumbles, and EIU recovers at the Tech 29.
* Long pass down the middle and Drake lays out for the catch at the back of the end zone, but cannot hang on. Third and eight for the Panthers at the 27, and Laughlin breaks up the pass attempt. Cameron Berra enters to attempt a 45-yard field goal. Bad snap, and holder Scott Weatherford throws it deep, incomplete.
* With 2:07 to play, Golden Eagles forced to punt. Zinchini kicks it out of bounds at the EIU 26, for a 45-yard kick. He has now kicked seven times for a 45.3 average.
* Garoppolo throws deep down the right sidelines, and defender Demario Donell falls down, leaving Gober all alone to make the catch. However, he comes down out of bounds, preventing a 72-yard TD. EIU must punt on fourth-and-eight. Illegal shift on EIU, and the five-yard penalty is added at the end of the kick, which was 34 yards.
* Tech uses the middle screen, the play that worked so well for EIU in the first quarter, and Davis finds Bush for a nine-yard gain. Tech calls timeout with 40 seconds remaining. Ready to go...but now EIU calls timeout.
* Nie catch by Cates for a gain of seven. Roughing the passer called at the end of the play for 15 more yards, and Tech has the ball at the EIU 30. Davis scrambles, finds Gannaway for 10-yard gain and first down at the EIU 20 with 23 seconds left. Again, Davis avoid rush, steps up and fires a pass that he somehow drops in between defenders at the three...and it's dropped.
* Big pressure, and two tackles have Davis.....but he escapes and throws it away to avoid a huge loss. Nine seconds left. Davis scrambles for a gain of 12, and gets out of bounds with just under one second left at the EIU seven. Chris Harris will attempt a 24-yard field goal, and the kick is.....wide left. Halftime.
THIRD QUARTER NOTES:
* After a 21-yard punt that went off the side of his foot and out of bounds, the Panthers begin at the TTU 37. Seven plays later, Garoppolo tosses a fade on fourth-and-two, and Lora grabs it at the sidelines for a five-yard TD.
* EIU puts together another scoring drive, this time moving 70 yards in eight plays, with Taylor Duncan running the final 16 for a touchdown. With 7:45 to play in the third, EIU leads 42-7.
* Zinchini's punt is 51 yards to the EIU 20, and Lora looks for his blockers, breaks through to the right side and goes 80 yards for his second PR touchdown of the game. PAT makes it 497 with 6:26 to play in third quarter.
* One of the craziest plays in Tech history. Colton Belew catches a pass from Davis and is racing along the sidelines for a 31-yard pickup, when the ball is knocked from his hands. His cousin, Eric Belew, picks it up and takes it another 39 yards down to the EIU 16. Davis made a great play to avoid the rush, then threw a perfect pass just over the defenders for the original completion. Cousin-to-cousin for a total of 73 yards.
FOURTH QUARTER NOTES:
* Fourth-and-four and EIU sends an all-out rush, flushing Davis and all he can do is throw an off-balance pass that falls incomplete and Tech comes up empty in the red zone.
* EIU takes over at the Panther 12. On third-and-one, Tra'Darius Goff forces a fumble by Duncan and Prewitt recovers, his second turnover recovery of the game after his first-half interception.
* After a four-yard rush by Isaiah McKinney, Davis is hit hard as he tries to pass and it goes incomplete. Third-and-six at the EIU 17. Davis fires one toward the goal line and Steve Wilson makes an impossible catch in double coverage at the two. First-and-goal. False start, and five-yard penalty to the seven. Pass into the end zone to Jordan Smith is incomplete. Second-and-goal. TOUCHDOWN. Davis finds Eric Belew in the end zone, then a personal foul as Robert Haynes hammers Davis after he delivers the touchdown pass. The 15-yard penalty will be assessed on the kickoff. Harris makes the PAT and its 49-14 with 12:08 remaining.
* Harris' kcik oes through the end zone, and EIU starts at the 25. Tech defense forces a fourth-and-five, and Garoppolo finds Jeff LePak along the sidelines for a first down pickup at the TTU 33. First-and-10 at the TTU 21, and Little takes a handoff around left tackle, untouched to the end zone. With 9:57 remaining, it's EIU 56, Tech 14. The drive went 75 yards in 12 plays, and took 2:06.
* Right now, EIU has 536 yards of total offense and Tech gas 234.
* Davis pressured and throws, pass deflected, and headed for a sure interception before James Normand knocks it down. There is no such stat, but Normand should get credited for a pass defended defended!
* End of the day for Garoppolo, who leaves the game with 399 yards and four touchdowns. Backup Ben Krol is at quarterback. Tech holds, and forces a punt.
* WIde open receiver over the middle and the pass is dropped. Fourth down, and Zinchini will punt for the 13th time. He drops one that is downed at the EIU three-yard line. The 13 punts ties the school record for most punts in a game (Zinchini had 13 at Oregon in 2012).
* Golden Eagle offense will get another chance as the defense holds for a trhee-and-out. Weatherford to punt out of his own end zone. Snap bounces to kicker, and his kick goes off the side of his foot and out of bounds at the 22, for a 13-yard kick. Tech has it first-and-10 at the EIU 22.
* Davis scrambles and gains seven to the EIU 15. Oops. Another false start. Second-and-eight back at the 20. Davis wrapped up, but gets away. Nobody open and he throws it away to avoid the sack. Third down. SHovel pass to Annoor and he's tripped for a loss as he catches it. Fourth down and 14. Long pass to the corner of the end zone, Eric Belew goes up and fights it away for the TOUCHDOWN with 2:04 remainingin. Harris' PAT makes it 56-21.
* Davis has thrown for 183 yards and three touchdowns.
* Tech's three scores have come on short drives of 15, 22, and 21 yards. Twice after Prewitt got turnovers, and once after a short EIU punt.
* EIU goes into victory formation and takes a knee as clock is in final minute.
* Ball game over.
* Tech's next game is at Southeast Missouri on Saturday, Nov. 9.