Panthers beat Illinois State in Mid-America Classic


Justin Brown

Eastern players celebrate with the Mid-America Classic trophy after defeating ISU 24-21 on Saturday at Hancock Stadium.

Sean Hastings, Sports Editor

Tayler Arterburn (left) recovers a fumble foced by Nick Horne after a hit on ISU quarterback Jack Kolbe Saturday at Hancock Stadium.
Justin Brown
Defensive lineman Tayler Arterburn (left) recovers a fumble foced by Nick Horne after a hit on ISU quarterback Jack Kolbe Saturday at Hancock Stadium.

Normal — Kim Dameron had won 13 games as the coach of the Eastern football team, but his 14th win against Illinois State Saturday was his biggest win yet.

In the 105th Mid-America Classic, Dameron and the Panthers went into Hancock Stadium and took back the trophy Illinois State left O’Brien Field with in 2015. Eastern won 24-21, but a late score by Illinois State made it closer than it seemed.

It was Family Weekend for Illinois State, and when Eastern had a 24-7 lead in the fourth quarter, the sellout crowd of 13,391 fans started to find their ways to the exit. Eastern shut out the Redbirds in the first half 10-0 with field goal by junior kicker Nick Bruno and a touchdown by red-shirt junior Addison Bounds in the second quarter.

It was Bounds’ birthday, and he said it was the best present he could have got.

Eastern knocked off FBS opponent Miami of Ohio, and after that win, it was Dameron’s biggest win at Eastern.

“This one’s bigger,” Dameron said. “Because of who it is, the trophy, all that. This is definitely the biggest win I’ve had so far at Eastern.”

Looking at the stat sheet, Illinois State dominated Eastern in terms of total yards, racking up 443 yards compared to Eastern’s 263.

Any time a team can put up 443 yards of total offense, it is a lot. But the way the Panther defense looks at it, it does not matter.

Red-shirt junior Nick Horne said they were taught you can bend, but don’t break. And that is what the Eastern defense did.

“You can make it all the way down the field, but we’re still going to fight,” Horne said. “They missed a field goal; that’s not breaking. We said ‘you’re not going to score on us.’”

The Panthers may not have had anywhere near the amount of yards Illinois State had, but the turnover numbers stand out. Eastern forced three turnovers resulting in 10 points.

“I promised the offense if they didn’t turn it over that they would win,” Dameron said. “I’m a man of my word.”

Red-shirt junior quarterback Mitch Kimble had another strong performance, throwing two touchdowns for 108 yards, but late in the third quarter Kimble was sacked hard, and he did not return.

Red-shirt junior quarterback Austin Green replaced him for the fourth quarter. He also had one drive to start the second quarter.

Green was 2-for-4 on pass attempts in his time in the game. Eastern scored its touchdown early in the fourth quarter off a 30-yard touchdown run to make it 24-7. Red-shirt running back Devin Church rushed for 76 yards in the game, and the Panthers’ rushing game is one aspect they have looked to improve on.

Kimble has been the Panthers’ starting quarterback in 2016, but Dameron has noted many times the importance of having two quarterbacks ready to go at all times. Through two games, Green saw his one drive in the second quarter, but having two quarterbacks ready came up big when Kimble went down with an apparent injury late in the third quarter.

“I thought (Green) did fantastic,” Dameron said. “The thing that we know about Austin is that he’s going to go in, he’s going to be sound, he’s going to compete, and he’s going to execute our offense and that is what he did. I’m proud of the way he answered the call.”

Illinois State made the game much closer than it should have been in the last six minutes of the game.

Eastern all but had the game in the bag, but the Redbirds scored 14 points fast and cut the game to just a field goal. Illinois State’s kicker missed a 40-yard field goal in the first quarter that would have tied the game at 3.

Bruno hit a 42-yard field goal earlier in the quarter. He was 1-for-2 in the game.

Last season, the Panthers went into Ohio Valley Conference play sitting at 0-3, now they are 2-1 going in when they host Austin Peay next weekend.

Sean Hastings can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]