Story and photo courtesy of Eastern Illinois Athletics
CHARLESTON, Ill. - Jimmy Garoppolo had a career passing day as the Eastern Illinois offensive juggernaut continued to roll with a 65-15 win over Austin Peay on Family Weekend at O’Brien Field. The Panthers (3-2, 2-0 OVC) defense held the Governors (0-5, 0-3 OVC) in check as EIU built a 21-0 lead and never looked back.
Garoppolo passed for 453 yards, the fourth best single game total in EIU history, as he moved into third place all-time in career touchdown passes with five added to his total on Saturday. Garoppolo now just trails Tony Romo and Sean Payton on that list as he threw five touchdowns in a game for the third time this season.
Following a stand by the Panthers defense to open the contest, Garoppolo hit Chris Wright for a 66-yard touchdown strike on the third EIU play of the game. Wright finished with three catches for 137 yards as three EIU receivers finished over the 100-yard mark. Garoppolo was 18-of-31 without an interception and said he thought his performance could have been better.
“I would not say I had an A+ effort today,” said Garoppolo following his fourth 300-yard game of the year. “I could have hit a few more open receivers and thrown for a higher percentage.”
Head coach Dino Babers agreed with Garoppolo’s assessment to some degree. “I think we could have done a better job in the second quarter. We had a little bit of a lull there. We threw for a lot of yards but had a low completion percentage.”
The Panthers owned a 21-0 lead after the first quarter on a touchdown run by Jake Walker of 28 yards and another long touchdown strike to freshman Keiondre Gober covering 66 yards. Cameron Berra tacked on a 28 yard field goal to open the second quarter as EIU was up 24-0.
EIU’s defense limited Austin Peay to negative eight rushing yards until midway through the second quarter when the Governors mustered some offense. Jake Ryan hit Devin Stark for APSU’s first score with 5:28 left to play in the second. EIU answered immediately with Garoppolo hitting the nation’s top receiver Erik Lora with a 50-yard touchdown pass.
Wesley Kitt’s then scored the Governors final points running in from 15 yards out. After a blocked kick returned for a conversion by EIU was called by due to a penalty, APSU went for two and connected with Ryan hitting Stark. EIU was able to shut down the APSU ground game for the most part as Kitts finished with 79 yards and APSU gained 124 as a team.
EIU’s defense was led by Pete Houlihan with ten tackles including a sack, forced fumble and pass break-up. EIU had eight total tackles for loss and ten pass break-ups. Artavious Dowdell had two pass break-ups at the line while adding a half sack.
“Our defense feels like we got a monkey off our back today holding Austin Peay to a low score,” said Houlihan. “We were able to key on the run and slow down Kitts. Our defensive line did a great job.”
After Kitts brought the score to 31-15, EIU added another quick strike as Garoppolo found Wright in the seam for a 63-yard touchdown pass. All five of Garoppolo’s passes on the day were from 50-yards or greater. He added another long TD pass to Gober in the third quarter covering 56 yards. Garoppolo also ran for a touchdown.
“JG was a general today for our offense,” said Babers. “He may have had his best day as a leader of our football team. He was truly excited for the younger guys who were making plays”
Gober finished with three catches for 132 yards while Lora had seven grabs for 139 yards. On the ground Jake Walker had 79 yards rushing with two scores.
The 50-point victory is the largest margin of victory for EIU over an OVC opponent. It was the eighth time in school history that EIU has scored 60 or more points, the last time was in 1991 against NCAA Division II member Lock Haven.
EIU returns to action next Saturday with a 2 p.m. game at UT Martin. The Panthers are tied for the OVC lead but now must prove themselves on the road.
“We have a 3-2 record against an excellent schedule,” said Babers. “Western Michigan and Illinois State were good teams that we lost to. We are 3-0 at home and 2-0 in the OVC. Now we have to win some road games.”