Football team ends season at Northern Iowa

Panthers eliminated in the first round of FCS playoffs


Jason Howell

The Panthers fell to Northern Iowa 53-17 in the first round of the FCS playoffs on Saturday.

Blake Nash, Assistant Sports Editor

For the third time this season, the Eastern football team was defeated by a Missouri Valley Conference opponent on Saturday. Eastern was defeated by Northern Iowa 53-17 in the first round of the FCS playoffs to end the season with a 7-5 record.

Eastern started the game on the right track, when red-shirt junior running back Devin Church scored on a two-yard touchdown run with 6:44 to play in the first quarter. But from that point on, Northern Iowa took control of the game, scoring 23 unanswered points before the half.

Northern Iowa outgained Eastern 464-287 and were a perfect 5-of-5 on red zone trips. Northern Iowa advances to play No. 6 six Portland State in the second round. Eastern was 0-for-4 in non-conference games this season, but coach Kim Dameron said that he is proud of his team, especially for the way they played in Ohio Valley Conference games.

“We started off pretty rough, but were able to get it together about the Illinois State game,” Dameron said. “Very proud of our young men for hanging in there, and playing their best football of the season.”

Northern Iowa rushed for 302 yards with Tyvis Smith leading its ground attack with 147 yards. Seniors Jourdan Wickliffe and Kamu Grugier-Hill led the Eastern defense with 10 and eight tackles, respectively. Grugier-Hill also had a sack in his final game for Eastern.

Northern Iowa quarterback Aaron Bailey completed 7-of-11 passes for 162 yards and three touchdowns. The Illinois transfer also rushed for 72 yards on 18 carries. Dameron said going into the game Bailey was the focal point of the Northern Iowa offense.

“He’s been their leading rusher throughout the season, scored 17 touchdowns,” Dameron said. “You have to be able to stop him because if he goes crazy you’re in trouble.”

On the other side of the field, the Eastern rushing game was held to 76 yards on 24 carries. Church led all Eastern rushers with 35 yards on 15 carries. Senior quarterback Jalen Whitlow completed 27-of-49 passes for 252 yards and a touchdown.

He completed a jump pass to red-shirt junior tight end Addison Bounds in the third quarter, which made it a 30-17 lead for Northern Iowa. Wide receiver Anthony Taylor caught three passes for 106 yards. Eastern turned the ball over four times, but allowed just three points off of them.

Eastern ended the season in second place in the OVC, and made its first playoff appearance since 2013.

It was also the first time that the OVC defensive player of the year honor was earned by an Eastern player. Red-shirt senior defensive tackle Dino Fanti ended Eastern’s drought of 13, following his final season as a Panther. Fanti totaled 60 tackles, including 21 for one loss, and 7.5 sacks.

Dameron said that Fanti was a big reason why Eastern made the postseason.

“He’s what FCS football is all about,” Dameron said. “He’s not big enough, fast enough or not this or that. But he’s a playmaking dude, who loves to play the game.”

Fanti was not the only senior recognized for a fine senior season. Grugier-Hill joined Fanti on the All-OVC first team, as did safety Jourdan Wickliffe. Grugier-Hill was third on the team in tackles with 62 and also recorded 5.5 sacks and an interception. This was his second consecutive season on the first team.

Wickliffe missed the Panthers’ non-conference stretch, but returned in time for the OVC season. His return helped Eastern record 19 interceptions, which was second in the nation. Wickliffe picked off five passes and ended his Eastern career second on the school’s all-time list.

Former basketball guard Dylan Chatman was named to the All-OVC second team in his first year on the gridiron. Chatman picked off four passes and recorded 29 tackles this season.


Blake Nash can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]