Eastern, Illinois State to meet for 107th time


File Photo

Eastern’s offensive line lines up against Illinois State in the Panthers’ 44-13 loss to the Redbirds at home last season. Illinois State and Eastern will play for the 107th time on Saturday in Bloomington.

JJ Bullock, Sports Editor

There will be no love lost on Saturday when the Eastern football team travels to Illinois State for the 107th installment of the Mid-America Classic. Plain and simple, Eastern does not like Illinois State and Illinois State does not like Eastern. 

There is truly no sugar coating how these programs feel about each other. The rivalry runs deep and it transcends the football field. Off the field the teams compete for recruits. The schools themselves compete to convince high school seniors to choose blue or to choose red. On social media, students from both schools hash it out about not just sports, but which school has better classes, a better campus, better social scene, etc. 

To many people at both schools, this game means more than just a notch in the win or loss column, it’s about bragging rights, validation and it’s about who reigns supreme for the next year over the 104 miles of highway that separate the two campuses.

“Yeah, we don’t like each other, that’s the way it’s supposed to be,” Eastern head coach Kim Dameron said. “It’s a rivalry game, they don’t like us, we don’t like them, that’s the way its supposed to be.”

The Panthers are doing what they can however, to keep in mind they still have to execute on the field. Illinois State is a very physical program, ranked 19th in the country and is very rarely an easy game. 

“There is a lot of rivalry games around the country, and the things that you have to do is keep that in perspective and just understand once the whistle blows, they kick it off. It’s a football game,” Dameron said. “We have got to make sure that we have got our minds in the right place as far as our focus, our attention to detail and not just let our emotions run away with us. But, I like the fact that we will have some emotion with this game, it’s a big game for us.”

Last season Illinois State came into Charleston and delivered a gut-punch to Eastern fans in the form of a 44-13 stomping of Eastern. Eastern lost not only the game that day, but also starting quarterback Mitch Kimble. All things considered, the game was simply a mess for the Panthers. 

“Everything (needs to be different this year),” Dameron said. “We played awful. We were just pathetic offensively, defensively we weren’t in the right spots. We didn’t hit the right gaps. It was a real error fest last year.”

The blowout loss was so impactful to Eastern that it actually served as one of the reasons the Panthers switched to an air-raid offense. 

Eastern knows Illinois State will be physical and playing in front of a home crowd in a rivalry game, and there is also an expectation that the Redbirds will be playing with lots of intensity.

“We have to match their intensity level,” Dameron said. “As a matter of fact, I think for us, we need to come out with a lot of intensity, and we need to match their physicality. We have to be able to run the ball, throw the ball do whatever it is.”

Other notes:

-Eastern will continue to rotate both Johnathan Brantley and Harry Woodbery at quarterback against Illinois State. This will continue all season until one player proves he is better than the other. 

-Illinois State will deploy a good backfield led by preseason all-conference running back James Robinson. Robinson had nine carries for 51 yards and two touchdowns in Illinois State’s 46-0 win over Saint Xavier in week one. The Redbirds are expected to use four running backs in the game.

-Illinois State holds a 55-42-9 record advantage over Eastern in the series. 

-Illinois State quarterback Brady Davis was named the MVC newcomer of the week after going 12 of 19 passing for 123 yards and one touchdown against Saint Xavier.

-Eastern’s starting center Cole Hoover was not suited up for practice on Wednesday after he was injured against Arkansas. Freshman Eliki Tanuvasa is his replacement.

JJ Bullock can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]