Defense cannot hold on in 41-40 loss to Tennessee State

Eastern+running+back+Isaiah+Johnson+moves+up+the+field+in+the+Panthers+41-40+loss+to+Tennessee+State+Saturday+at+O%E2%80%99Brien+Field.+The+Panthers+fell+to+0-4+with+the+loss.
Back to Article
Back to Article

Defense cannot hold on in 41-40 loss to Tennessee State

Eastern running back Isaiah Johnson moves up the field in the Panthers 41-40 loss to Tennessee State Saturday at O’Brien Field. The Panthers fell to 0-4 with the loss.

Eastern running back Isaiah Johnson moves up the field in the Panthers 41-40 loss to Tennessee State Saturday at O’Brien Field. The Panthers fell to 0-4 with the loss.

Jordan Boyer

Eastern running back Isaiah Johnson moves up the field in the Panthers 41-40 loss to Tennessee State Saturday at O’Brien Field. The Panthers fell to 0-4 with the loss.

Jordan Boyer

Jordan Boyer

Eastern running back Isaiah Johnson moves up the field in the Panthers 41-40 loss to Tennessee State Saturday at O’Brien Field. The Panthers fell to 0-4 with the loss.

JJ Bullock, Sports Editor

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






For the third week in a row, all that could be said by the Eastern football team after suffering a loss was that something needed to change. After losing to Tennessee State 41-40 on Saturday at O’Brien Field, in a game where the Panthers led by 21-points, Eastern is now 0-4, looking for answers, and as tight end James Sheehan put it, literally “have their backs against the wall.”

Eastern switched defensive schemes this week from its traditional 4-3 set to a 3-3-5 in hopes to fix a defensive unit that had given up over 40 points in all three of the team’s first games. At first, the switch seemed to have worked; at the end of the first quarter Eastern was leading the Tigers 17-0 and the defense had forced two turnovers. 

But, something happened. In the second quarter Tennessee State started to move the ball a little easier, and less than two minutes into the quarter they kicked a field goal to push the score to 17-3. Eastern quickly responded, making the score 24-3 after quarterback Johnathan Brantley connected with receiver Aaron Gooch for a 71-yard score, seemingly keeping momentum on their side. But, Tennessee State moved back down the field and kicked another field goal. 24-6. 

Eastern got the ball back with a little time left before halftime, when head coach Kim Dameron decided to take a shot down the field rather than sit on the ball. This very well could have been the moment where momentum switched completely.

Brantley was looking to throw down the field when he was hit from behind and fumbled the ball. Tennessee State recovered and in one play on offense scored a touchdown to put the score at 24-13 heading into halftime. 

“That was called by me, it was my fault. I got greedy,” Dameron said of the fumble. “I wanted to take one shot, we didn’t run the clock out, had no idea we’d get hit in the back with the fumble. It’s on me, I called it, I told them to throw it deep. I wanted to take one shot, maybe throw it to (Alexander Hollins) or (Nick Atoyebi) before the half to see if maybe we could pop something and get some momentum and trying to be aggressive before half bit me in the butt. And to be honest with you, I know better.”

Tennessee State received the second half kick and with the start of the third quarter, it seemed the demons that plagued the defense in the first three games of the season crawled back out from under the bed.

Tennessee State scored two touchdowns in the third quarter, putting up 151 yards on 19 plays. By the time all was said and done in the quarter, Tennessee State had cut Eastern’s lead down to 31-26.

“We were up 17-0, momentum was all us, it shifted at some point. They had a turnover in our red zone, scored on the next play, had some bad field position when they scored on the next play. A couple of quick hits, then next thing you know the score was a five-point game,” senior linebacker Joe Caputo said. “But that’s on the defense for sure, they can’t be putting up 41-points week in and week out.”

Eastern opened the fourth quarter with a field goal, but the defense could not hold up and let Tennessee State respond with a field goal and a 49-yard touchdown pass on back-to-back drives. With 7:31 to play in the game, Tennessee State had a 35-34 lead. 

The Panthers’ offense responded to Tennessee State taking the lead by scoring immediately on the next drive when quarterback Harry Woodbery found Alexander Hollins for a 72-yard score. Eastern failed at a two-point conversion attempt, but still owned a 40-35 lead with 6:27 to play. 

Now all Eastern needed to happen was for its struggling defense to buckle down and make a stop. But, what happened instead lost Eastern the game.

Tennessee State marched down the field and scored a touchdown, a four-yard run by Earl Harrison, to take a 41-40 lead with 3:06 remaining. 

With the ball back in possession, the Eastern offense trudged into Tennesse State territory and eventually faced a crucial third and three situation. The Panthers ran the ball with running back Darshon McCullough, but he was unable to pick up the first down. 

Against Illinois State, Eastern faced a similar situation where they elected to run the ball with Robert Columbus rather than big running back Jamal Scott, a decision that was questioned after the game and one that Dameron said would never happen again. So when the team ran it with McCullough on the play instead of Scott, the descision was questioned once again, but Dameron said because of McCullough pass blocking ability and his understanding of the offense, he will always be the running back in the final two-minutes of the game “period.”

Eastern attempted a 47-yard field goal with 1:13 remaining to take the lead, but the kick was blocked, sealing a win for Tennessee State. 

By the time the game was done, Eastern had watched a 21-point lead slip away and saw its new look defense give up 41-points and 544 yards.

“I don’t know, at some point it just has to be a mindset that we go out and practice every day, give our effort, we prepare the right way. I mean, something has got to change though obviously, and we thought we changed something this week, and it didn’t work,” Caputo said. “I really don’t know what the difference is, we all give our 100 percent effort, we’re all strong, tackling obviously is an issue, from everybody, myself included and … I don’t know.”

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