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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

    Cartoon: ACORN

    Eastern’s defense led the nation in takeaways during the 2005 season with 20 interceptions and 21 fumbles recovered. Nine Panthers had at least one interception and 12 Panthers recovered at least one fumble.

    Four of those players scored at least one touchdown after their takeaway. Through five games this season, six Panthers have combined for eight interceptions and six Panthers have recovered a fumble.

    Eastern’s 14 takeaways average out to 2.8 takeaways per game and rank the Panthers 14th in the Football Championship Subdivision.

    The 2005 defense averaged 3.4 takeaways per game. Eastern defensive coordinator Roc Bellantoni said he has hopes that this year’s defense could be reminiscent of the 2005 defense.

    “We only got 19 (takeaways) last year,” Bellantoni said. “We dropped a lot of interceptions. We had fumbles on the ground and we didn’t get them. For whatever reason it just didn’t fall our way.”

    Bellantoni said getting takeaways is one of the main tenets of the Panthers’ defense. He said Eastern’s defense’s goals are to stop the run, get after the passer and get the ball back for the Panthers’ offense.

    Bellantoni said he also stresses setting up scores to his defense.

    “All the stats and yards and all that don’t really matter to me at all,” Bellantoni said. “It’s about points. Points allowed and points scored. That’s how we’ve won games here the past few years, and that’s what we have to continue to do.”

    All-Americans Clint Sellers (linebacker), Lucius Seymour (linebacker) and Tristan Burge (strong safety) led the 2005 Panthers’ defense.

    Sellers had 121 tackles, three sacks, five interceptions and two fumble recoveries. Seymour had 115 tackles, three interceptions and three fumble recoveries. Burge had 86 tackles, four interceptions and three fumble recoveries. Burge returned four of his takeaways for touchdowns, and Seymour scored twice off takeaways.

    Free safety, and now Eastern assistant coach, Chad Cleveland and cornerback Terrance Sanders scored one touchdown each off of a takeaway.

    Red-shirt sophomore cornerback Rashad Haynes scored on an interception return against Indiana State.

    Red-shirt senior cornerback Irvin Jean-Charles scored on a fumble recovery against Illinois. Senior cornerback Adrian Arrington also scored a touchdown off of a blocked punt against Jacksonville State.

    “I can draw some comparisons because we’re almost halfway to our turnover margin we had in ’05,” said red-shirt junior free safety Seymour Loftman about Eastern’s current defense. “But comparing us to ’05 I wouldn’t say so because those guys played with a little more heart.”

    Loftman said playing with enough emotion is something Eastern’s defense has not done this season. He said the Panthers have to play with more heart and more emotion if they want to match the success from three years ago.

    “Those guys put it all on the line,” Loftman said about the 2005 Eastern defense. “I don’t think we’ve put it all on the line yet. We can definitely be playing better, but we have the potential to be just as good as they were.”

    Red-shirt senior linebacker James Larson agreed with Loftman. He said the 2005 defense had the ability to change a game, and it did.

    “It just seemed like that defense, when plays needed to be made in the game, they were made,” Larson said. “They changed a lot of games.”

    Larson said the Panthers’ defense this season was able to take the game into its hands against Illinois State. Eastern recovered two fumbles and picked off three Illinois State passes in its 25-21 victory against the Redbirds. Larson said the Panthers’ defense needs to play more consistently and not miss takeaway opportunities when they are presented.

    “I really think that we’re on track to be (as good as in 2005),” Larson said. “I don’t think we’re there yet, but we have the potential to be there.”

    Red-shirt senior defensive end Pierre Walters said one comparison he can draw between this year’s defense and the 2005 defense is the excitement big plays creates.

    “We’re really excited about getting takeaways,” Walters said. “A lot of teams and defenses preach ‘get turnovers,’ but when we get them it’s a huge deal for us.”

    Walters said getting takeaways is one of defense’s primary goals. He said the Panthers’ defense doesn’t want to simply tackle the opposing team’s running back, wide receiver or quarterback.

    “We always want a little bit more, which is stripping the ball out or when we catch the interception we’re trying to go the distance and score,” Walters said.

    Freshman defensive end Perry Burge, Tristan’s younger brother, obviously wasn’t on the Panthers’ roster in 2005 like Walters, Larson and Loftman were, but he did see the 2005 defense play. Perry said the Panthers’ current defense’s speed is comparable to the defensive speed in 2005.

    “The way everybody’s always flying to the ball and they never stop, that’s how you get a takeaway,” Perry said. “You’ll get that interception and you’ll get that fumble if you’re running harder than the opposing player.”

    Walters said Eastern’s defense could be playing better this season, but he said the defense does have some optimism because it is getting takeaways despite not playing at the level it should be.

    “In my opinion, we’ve been playing very average,” Walters said. “I’m really excited because once we put together a solid game defensively, who knows, we might get 10 turnovers.”

    Bellantoni said he has told Eastern’s defense from the start of the season they could be the best defense he’s ever coached, but he said the Panthers had not yet reached their full potential.

    “We’ve done some things well for most of every game,” Bellantoni said. “There’s a period of time there in each of those games where it’s just the other team beating us or us not playing with emotion. There’s always a reason we haven’t put four full quarters together. I don’t have an answer for why we don’t put four full quarters together, but we’re continuing to push on and get there.”

    Loftman agreed with Walters and Bellantoni about how good the Panthers’ defense can be if they play a complete game. He said Eastern hasn’t been clicking on all cylinders yet this season.

    “If all three phases – special teams, offense and defense – can feed off one another and feed off each other’s energy, I feel like we can be pretty damn good,” Loftman said. “We haven’t put our best game together yet, and I’m anxious to see what that’s going to be like.”

    Scott Richey can be reached at 581-7944 or at [email protected].

      Cartoon: ACORN


      (Drawn from the news/Chris Lee)


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