Courtesy of Illinois State Athletics
- In a game that featured five lead changes, running back Erik Smith’s two touchdowns led the Illinois State football team (6-5, 4-4 MVFC) past in-state rival Eastern Illinois (2-9, 2-6 OVC) 27-23, in its final game of the 2010 season Saturday at Hancock Stadium.
Eastern Illinois wasted no time getting on the scoreboard, as Mon Williams scampered 71 yards to the end zone for a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage. The extra point was converted, giving the Panthers an early 7-0 lead with 14:48 left in the first quarter.
After Ben Ericksen returned the following kick-off into Eastern Illinois territory, the Panthers regained possession, forcing a fumble by Smith, which was recovered by Eastern Illinois’ Nick Martinez at the Panther 32-yard line. EIU converted on the turnover, capping a 13-play, 58-yard drive with a 27-yard field goal by Cameron Berra, extending the Panther lead to 10-0 with 7:08 left in the first quarter.
The Redbirds responded on their next possession with a 13-play, 41-yard scoring drive, capped by a 42-yard field goal by Steven Fetzer, which brought the score to 10-3 with 1:27 left in the first quarter.
EIU drove into ISU territory on its next possession, but came away empty-handed, as Jimmy Garappolo’s deep ball was intercepted by E.J. Jones in the end zone, giving the ball back to the Redbirds with 13:19 left in the second quarter.
ISU put up another three points in its next possession, with Fetzer connecting on a 20-yard field goal to narrow the Panther lead to 10-6 with 6:17 left in the second quarter. The 16-play, 77-yard scoring drive was highlighted by a key fourth down conversion in Panther territory, as Matt Brown found Matt Mose for a 19-yard completion.
The Redbird special teams unit broke out on the next Panther possession, as Shelby Harris blocked an EIU punt, giving the Redbirds possession on the EIU 27-yard line with 3:21 left in the second quarter. ISU converted seven plays later, as Ashton Leggett bullied his way into the end zone on fourth-and-goal on the EIU one-yard line. The extra point was converted, giving Illinois State a 13-10 lead with 1:28 left in the second quarter.
Despite having only a minute and change to work with, EIU responded in a flash. After returning the following kick-off into Redbird territory, the Panthers converted two plays later, as Garappolo found Kenny Whittaker for a 19-yard touchdown. The extra point attempt was not converted, leaving EIU with a 16-13 lead at halftime.
The ‘Birds drove the ball into the red zone on their first possession of the second half, but came up short after Brown’s pass on second-and-goal was intercepted by EIU’s Marcus Lee, who brought it back to the ISU 27-yard line. The Redbird defense responded, holding EIU on its first three downs and blocking the Panthers’ fourth-down field goal attempt.
ISU responded with a 16-play, 78-yard scoring drive, capped by a one-yard touchdown run by Smith on fourth-and-goal. The extra point was converted, and the Redbirds regained the lead, 20-16, with 1:38 left in the third quarter.
The Panthers answered back quickly on their next possession, as Garappolo finished an eight-play, 75-yard scoring drive with a four-yard touchdown run. The extra point was converted, giving the Panthers a 23-20 lead with 13:19 left in the fourth quarter.
After both teams traded punts on their next possessions, Illinois State drove 61 yards on 14 plays, ending with a three-yard touchdown run by Smith, his second of the game, as the Redbirds regained the lead 27-23 after the converted extra point. The drive chewed up seven minutes off the clock, with EIU regaining possession with 1:21 left in the fourth quarter.
The Panthers came up short on their following drive, as Garappolo’s fourth-down pass was intercepted by Bo Flowers with 51 seconds left, which sealed the victory for the Redbirds.
The win Saturday wrapped up back-to-back winning seasons for the Redbirds, their first since the 2005-06. Illinois State now holds a 9-2 home record under head coach Brock Spack.