Huge strikes within the second half assist the ISU to fend off the EIU | Indiana State Sports activities
The Sycamores managed to accomplish this mission, if not without difficulty. The ISU’s big games in the second half provided just enough headroom to parry Eastern Illinois’ more consistent smaller wins as the Sycamores won a 26-21 triumph on a sultry night at Memorial Stadium.
“First and foremost? I’m very proud of this team. We’ve been through so much in 644 days. There have been ups and downs. We stuck together, got this W and it’s such a great feeling.” said ISU wide receiver Dante Hendrix, who set a new ISU record with a catch in his 22nd consecutive contest.
These large pieces were supplied by a pair of ISU Michaels. In the fourth game of the second half, Wildcat quarterback Michael Hauptert dashed 44 yards for a touchdown to bring the Sycamores to 10. Later, after EIU closed the gap to three, Michael Thomas grabbed a deflected ball and raced 75 yards for a touchdown with 13:16 remaining in play.
“Great to take the win, bottom line. The biggest challenge for us will be improving from game one to two,” said Mallory. “Michael [Thomas] made a lot of great games. He showed up throughout the game. [Michael Haupert’s touchdown] was a huge game, in the long run. He’s a weapon. “
Between these two games, the ISU was often under pressure. The Panthers outperformed the Sycamores 378-245 on the overall offensive when EIU quarterback Otto Kuhns improvised to 253 yards despite decent pressure from the ISU front. The ISU offense stagnated after a good start. The Sycamores were only 3 out of 14 in third place, including several short thirds that remained on the field. Defensively, the ISU had five pass interference penalties, two of which kept the EIU scoring drives alive.
Mallory pointed out a few things regarding the ISU’s execution.
ISU (1-0) came out of the gates as they had hoped. The Panthers were driven backwards in the opening game of the game – an Inoke Moala sack provided the big blow – and then the ISU’s new offense looked fresh.
New quarterback Anthony Thompson, a southpaw, threw four straight fast sideline routes to the left sideline to get into a rhythm. He led the ISU on a 60-yard scoring drive topped off by a three-yard touchdown run by Peterson Kerlegrand to put the ISU 7-0 ahead.
Thompson went on to complete seven of his first eight passes. A promising start to the Northern Illinois transfer.
“It used to look very good out there. We have to see the movie [on the whole game]. There was a distraction, some lost passports, we have to watch the movie to see where the mishaps went, “said Mallory.” I thought this was a good opening game that gave him a little confidence. “
ISU scored again in its third series, via a 48-yard field goal from Michigan Transfer Alan Selzer earlier in the second quarter. ISU was leading 10-0, and by that point in the competition, EIU had only converted one first down.
However, mistakes and poor execution slowed the ISU for the remainder of the half. Eastern Illinois quarterback Otto Kuhns was better able to handle the ISU pass rush by stepping into the pocket to complete several throws, and EIU got its running game going too.
Even so, the Panthers were in trouble after a 3rd-and-1 at ISU 6 was turned into a 3rd-and-11 at 16 after two false starts. However, the ISU left the Panthers out of the game with a pass interference penalty after a desperate stroke from Kuhns. Two games later, Panthers running back Harrison Bey-Bouie fell in from two meters and the Panthers were back in competition.
ISU had a chance to get going again, but mistakes big and small pained them. A third of the down-conversion was wasted in the last two minutes by a thrown pass from a wide-open guy edge. ISU Security Michael Thomas immediately returned the ball to ISU with an interception at EIU 27, but Thompson was dropped on 3rd-and-2 for a three-yard loss and Selzer missed a 40-yard field goal far left.
The ISU’s half-time lead was only 10-7, despite an advantage on the first downs and the total distance at that time.
Hauptert provided a respite. The ISU wildcat was effective in 2019 and during the preseason camp. Hauptert took the direct transfer to the center, cut to the right, and used his speed to break the 44-yard touchdown to give the ISU a 24-14 lead.
“It’s what we do. What I did was nothing that we wouldn’t have done in practice,” he said of the ISU’s Wildcat formation.
The good feeling was short-lived. With the swing of a 61-yard catch from Demetrius Garrett, EIU retreated within three points on a 4-yard finish for Tyler Hamilton’s run.
EIU missed a game-defining field goal as the game was in limbo until Thomas had his star’s turn. On a center screen, Kuhns delivered a negative pressure to Harrison Bey-Buie, but the passport was delivered too hard and it distracted from Bey-Buie into the waiting arms of Thomas.
“The coaches told us there was going to be a distraction this week. It was exactly the position they wanted us in when there was one,” said Thomas.
TJ Simpson set Thomas free with a chip block on the outside and 75 yards later Thomas gave the Sycamores a 24-14 lead.
Still, the concerns of the ISU were not behind them. EIU responded with a gigantic 19-play, 75-yard drive, topped by a 4th-and-goal conversion from Kuhns with 2:56 remaining to reduce ISU’s lead to three. The ISU called most of the time, and a good punt from Travis Reiner under pressure kept the Panthers at ISU 7, 34 seconds behind. ISU crossed an automatic safety device at two additional points when Kuhns was punished for deliberate grounding in the end zone.
ISU has two weeks to prepare for a daunting journey to see the Big Ten West Division defending champions in the northwest.
“We have to work on consistency. I know what this team is capable of. The best teams make their biggest jumps from week one to week two. We have to learn from the film and get better,” said Hendrix.