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

Clutch Redbirds finish off Eastern

When the Redbirds needed a play, they came through Saturday against Eastern’s football team as the Panthers lost 27-23.

Illinois State was 5-of-5 on fourth down conversions, and 10-of-18 on third downs, while Eastern failed its only fourth down attempt and converted 6-of-11 third downs.

No matter the length of the fourth down play, the Redbirds went for it Saturday.

At the end of the game, trailing 23-20, ISU went for a fourth down play, when the team was in range for a game-tying kick for kicker Steven Fetzer, who was 2-of-2 on the day for field goals from 42 and 20 yards, respectively.

Instead of kicking, ISU called on running back Erik Smith to pick up the fourth-and-one from the four-yard line.

Earlier in the game, Smith converted on another fourth-and-short play to score a touchdown on the goal line.

“We couldn’t keep them out,” Eastern head coach Bob Spoo said.

Smith shared carried with running back Ashton Leggett. Each back had at least 20 carries in the game, combining for more than 120 yards and three touchdowns.

ISU was able to make big plays in fourth down situations, but also on special teams.

With the score 10-6 late in the second quarter, ISU trailing, defensive lineman Shelby Harris was able to block an Eastern punt and return it, setting up Leggett to pound in a touchdown on a fourth-and-goal play.

“It didn’t even look like they were in a block punt formation,” Spoo said. “It looked like they were in safe punt, but we didn’t even block. I was really disappointed.”

The special teams unit for Eastern bit again early in the second half after Eastern junior linebacker Gordy Kickels intercepted an ISU pass on the goal line as it looked like the Redbirds were headed in for another score.

“They kept running that power play,” Kickels said. “I got in the quarterbacks face, tapped it and it landed in my hands.”

Kickels made a huge return to ISU’s 32-yard line, giving Eastern good field position; however, the offense stalled and Eastern had its field goal attempt blocked.

The field goal would have given Eastern a 19-13 lead; instead, the Panthers’ lead stayed at 16-13. On the ensuing Redbird drive, quarterback Matt Brown made a 15-yard run into a first down on a fourth-and-long play.

The 15-yard run was Brown’s longest of the day. The conversion led to another fourth down play on the goal line when Leggett scored his touchdown.

“They have a hell of a quarterback. He is the best we have played this season,” Spoo said.

Brown did not throw any touchdowns, but was 27-of-41 for 238 yards through the air. Brown was sacked twice, while Eastern freshman quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was sacked once, which came on the final Eastern drive as they tried to respond, trailing 27-23.

Harris sacked Garoppolo for a loss of five yards, which put the drive back early. Eastern was unable to do anything after that.

“They were basically dropping everyone into coverage, we shouldn’t have given up that sack, but they got penetration,” Garoppolo said.

With the loss, Eastern ended its season with a 2-9 record. In the last three games of the season, Eastern was 2-1.

Alex McNamee can be reached at 581-7944 or [email protected]

Clutch Redbirds finish off Eastern

Clutch Redbirds finish off Eastern

Chris Wright, a sophomore wide receiver, catches an 83-yard pass against Illinois State in Normal. Eastern lost to Illinois State 23-27. (Danny Damiani

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