Panthers to renew rivalry with Redbirds

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Sandy King | Eastern Athletics

Eastern quarterback Chris Katrenick releases a pass while the Dayton pass rush bears down on him in a game Sept. 11. Katrenick was 12-for-27 passing for 111 yards in the game, which Eastern lost 17-10.

Autumn Schulz, Assistant Sports Editor

Rivalry will be the name of the game for the Eastern football team as Illinois State comes to O’Brien Field for the 109th Mid-America Classic on Saturday.  

The rivalry between the Panthers and the Redbirds dates back to 1901, making it the longest FCS rivalry game in the state of Illinois.  

Eastern, currently ranked last in the OVC, will be searching for its first win of the season after an 0-3 start.  

Illinois State won lost its last game after Western Michigan put up a 28-0 shutout against the Redbirds. 

The Redbirds currently rank seventh in the MVFC for offense, averaging 24.5 points per game. Defensively, the Redbirds rank fifth, allowing their opponents 17.5 points per game.  

Sophomore quarterback Bryce Jefferson is 16-of-36 passing for 232 yards this season with just 2 touchdowns.  

Jefferson has 57 rushing yards on the season with 2 touchdowns, averaging 16 yards per game. 

The defensive leader for the Redbirds thus far has been sophomore linebacker Kenton Wilhoit. 

He tied for the team lead last season with 22 tackles and leads the team this season with 16 tackles.  

As a team, the Redbirds are ranked third in the MVFC.  

Eastern currently ranks sixth in the OVC for offense, averaging 10 points per game. 

They have decreased the number of points scored per game, scoring 21 points in the opener, 0 points against South Carolina, and 10 points against Dayton last weekend. 

Following his efforts against Dayton, punter Logen Neidhardt was named the Ohio Valley Conference Special Teams Player of the Week. He averaged 52 yards per punt with a total of six punts, which ranks first in the conference.  

Wide receiver Robbie Lofton led the team with 5 catches and 61 yards against Dayton and is currently ranked tenth in the conference, averaging 3.3 catches and 29.7 yards per game.  

Defensively, Eastern ranks tenth in the FCS in pass defense allowing 135.3 yards per game. 

Sophomore safety Jordan Vincent had 12 tackles against the Flyers. He currently leads the Panthers with 24 tackles and ranks third in the OVC with 8 tackles per game.  

Against Dayton, the Panthers turned the ball over twice and was limited to just five offensive plays in the third quarter. 

Head coach Adam Cushing said that the team has been working on limiting their mistakes by emphasizing how important it is to take care of the football during practice.  

“It’s all the focus on the football,” he said. “That’s what has been our issue is that we are giving it away on offense. They’re not taking it from us, we’re just giving it away and defensively we are not taking it away. This week, everybody that was on the sideline was holding a football and when it was their turn to go on the field, the offensive guys would run over and hand it to the defensive guys. Just emphasis that the football is the only thing that matters, and we are not taking care of it.” 

The last time the Eastern football team won its home opener was in 2013 with a 57-24 win over Illinois State.  

Cushing said that he and the team are excited for the rivalry game but want to stress that they can’t lose themselves in the excitement.  

“Earlier in the week we talked about the history of it, the trophy, how it is the longest standing rivalry in the state of Illinois and the guys are excited about it,” he said. “That’s one of the great things about college football is the traditions, playing for the trophy. After that it’s about just going and doing what we do. If we make too much of it, we will lose focus on ourselves and to do our job better we have to focus on ourselves.”   

Kickoff for the game is scheduled to be at 6 p.m.  

 

Autumn Schulz can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]