Eastern loses home opener 38-21


Jason Howell

Senior running back Malcolm Agnew runs in untouched for Southern Illinois-Carbondale, giving the Salukis a 28-21 lead in the third quarter over Eastern at O’Brien Field Saturday night. Agnew rushed for three touchdowns, as the Panthers lost 38-21 in their home opener.

Aldo Soto , Sports Editor

The Eastern football team took a 21-14 lead into halftime, but Southern Illinois Carbondale rebounded in the last two quarters, outscoring the Panthers 24-0 to win 38-21 Saturday night at O’Brien Field.

Senior running back Malcolm Agnew rushed for three touchdowns, and junior quarterback Mark Ianotti passed for two touchdowns that both came in the second half for the Salukis.

Agnew’s third rushing touchdown came with 5:44 left in the third quarter, which gave Southern its first lead since 14-7 with six minutes left in the second quarter.

The Salukis win marked Eastern’s first regular-season home loss since 2011 and first double-digit loss at home since Oct. 18, 2011 against Eastern Kentucky.

Eastern head coach Kim Dameron saw his defense struggle in the second half for the second straight week. The tackling or lack there of from the Panthers concerned the first-year coach the most.

“We emphasized all game long that they had to move their target and wrap up,” Dameron said. “We didn’t do that and in the third quarter they just put up 17 points.”

Agnew had touchdown runs of two and 32 in the first half. The senior ended the night with 147 yards on 18 carries, averaging 8.2 yards per carry.

“We didn’t tackle all night long,” Dameron said.

The Panthers overcame a 14-7 deficit in the second quarter, as Taylor Duncan had a four-yard rushing touchdown with a little more than three minutes left before the half. After the Panthers’ defense quickly stopped Southern in its next possession, red-shirt senior Andrew Manley led an 11-play, 86-yard drive capped off by his seven-yard touchdown run that gave Eastern a 21-14 lead.

Junior Jalen Whitlow started at quarterback, but did not play as much as he did against Minnesota. Whitlow was 6-of-14 for 85 yards and had 39 rushing yards. Manley came in after Whitlow for the second straight game, but said he is on board with what the coaching staff is doing.

“I don’t have an opinion on it,” Manley said. “I just know that when I’m out there we’re trying to move the ball and score and that’s the same for Jalen when he’s in there.”

Eastern was led on offense by wide receiver Adam Drake, who had nine catches for 139 yards.

“We need some more guys to step up,” Dameron said.

The next leading receiver that was not a running back for the Panthers was Jeff LePak, who had three catches for 25 yards.

The Panthers had 451 total yards of offense, but only one total yard in the entire third quarter.

“Every drive in the third quarter we would get the ball and then have a penalty,” Dameron said. “We couldn’t stay on the field on offense and we couldn’t get off the field on defense.”

Southern rushed for 146 yards, while Ianotti passed for 233 yards on 25-of-34 attempts, including his two second-half touchdown passes. He threw an interception to Eastern’s defensive back Anthony Standifer in the first half.

Manley passed for 240 yards and a touchdown, but threw two interceptions, one apiece in each half.

“We had the same intensity in the third quarter that we had in the first half,” Manley said. “They came out and disguised a lot of their coverages, but they just made more plays than we did.”

Dameron said things need to change after the home loss, pointing to possible changes in who plays and who does not.

“It was a tale of two halves,” he said.

The Salukis beat Eastern for the first time since 2011.

The Panthers’ next game starts at noon Saturday in Normal against Illinois State.

Aldo Soto can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]