The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News

The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News

The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News

Eastern defense detains Redbirds

Terrance Sanders did his best to keep his career going.

The senior cornerback made 3.5 tackles, broke up two passes and returned an interception 87 yards for the Panthers’ only score.

His performance, and the play of the rest of the defense, was a bright spot in Eastern’s season-ending 24-13 playoff loss to Illinois State on Saturday.

The Panthers’ defense held the Redbirds’ high-powered offense to 339 total yards.

ISU’s offense came into the game sixth in the nation with an average of more than 400 yards a game.

Eastern’s defensive coordinator Roc Bellantoni said the defense executed the game plan brilliantly the entire game.

“There is not anything I would have done different,” he said. “Nobody’s done that to them this season.”

Illinois State quarterback Luke Drone threw four interceptions. He entered the game with only five interceptions on the season.

This came with Eastern missing one of its key components in its secondary.

Starting cornerback Ben Brown was suspended indefinitely for violation of team policy last Monday.

The loss of Brown meant the rest of the secondary had to play in more rotations.

“We were really gassed at a lot of positions,” Bellantoni said. “It definitely hurt us. It really hurt us. More than I can say.”

Sanders said he was very tired after returning the interception in the fourth quarter.

“Playing without Ben definitely made our job a lot tougher,” he said. “It hurt us at our rotation at cornerback.”

On Sanders’ interception return, the cornerback said he saw the ball sitting on his safety’s back after they dislodged it from fullback Kendric Meredith’s hands.

He grabbed it and ran down the right sideline. At the end of the run, an exhausted Sanders dove into the end zone for the score.

“He made a great play on the ball,” said ISU head coach Denver Johnson. “Then a great return to go ahead.”

The jubilation of the go-ahead score was short-lived.

The offense continued to commit false start penalties even with a 13-10 lead and less than 5 minutes to play in the game.

Then with 2 minutes, 7 seconds left, the defense gave up its first touchdown of the game, an 18-yard run by ISU running back Pierre Rembert. Rembert had 122 rushing yards including 42 on the Redbirds’ game-clinching drive.

It was a drive that did not indicate the defense’s domination up to that point.

“We never could establish ourselves offensively,” Johnson said.

Linebacker Donald Thomas had two of the interceptions and a Tristan Burge interception with 4:14 left in the game seemed to clinch the win for the Panthers.

But the offense could not gain a first down.

Sanders said finishing his career in a loss after playing so well was tough.

“When you make a play like that, (it was) a big play for us,” he said. “It’s a tough one to swallow, definitely.”

Now the coaching staff has to try and replace a senior class that included four defensive starters, three in the secondary and linebacker Lucius Seymour.

“We lose a lot of talented guys,” Bellantoni said. “They were some damn good players.”

Eastern defense detains Redbirds

Eastern defense detains Redbirds

Sophomore saftey Seymour Loftman tackles Illinois State senior runningback Pierre Rembert late in the second quarter Saturday afternoon. (Carrie Hollis/The Daily Eastern News)


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