Turnovers hurt Panthers in Hoco loss


Rob Le Cates | The Daily Eastern News

Eastern running back Jaelin Benefield avoids a Tennessee State player while running the ball in the Homecoming Game against the Tigers. Eastern lost 28-0 to Tennessee State at O’Brien Field.

Autumn Schulz, Assistant Sports Editor

Turnovers continued to haunt the Eastern football team throughout the 2021 Homecoming Game Saturday afternoon, resulting in a 28-0 loss to Tennessee State. Head coach Adam Cushing said that they ultimately did not give themselves a chance to win. 

“You don’t win any football games that you lose the turnover ratio, especially when the turnovers lead to points,” he said. “It is truly the highest correlation to wins and losses, just points off of turnovers. That’s the highest correlation statistic out there, so, we’re beating ourselves. We’ve got to play clean football in order to have a chance to win and today we did not give ourselves a chance to win.”   

The Panthers turned the ball over four times during the game. One of the turnovers came early in the second quarter after quarterback Otto Kuhns was intercepted by Tigers linebacker James Green at the Eastern 49-yard line. 

Green returned the interception for 47 yards before being knocked out of bounds by Kuhns at the Eastern 2-yard line, giving the Tigers’ offense great field position. Tigers quarterback Geremy Hickbottom then took the ball in for a touchdown, followed by an Antonio Zita extra point, giving the Tigers a 7-0 lead.  

The Tigers would have further extended their lead late in the second quarter after driving deep into Panther territory, but the Panthers’ defense would hold a goal line stand on 4-and-1 from the one-yard line. 

The Panthers’ defense was led by defensive lineman Cameron Leach with nine tackles. Safety Jordan Vincent and linebacker Jason Johnson followed closely behind with eight tackles apiece.  

The Panthers struggled offensively throughout the entire game, gaining only 187 yards of total offense. Quarterback Otto Kuhns was 10-of-25, passing for 70 yards with three interceptions and was sacked three times. 

Running back Jaelin Benefield led the rushing game for the Panthers, rushing for 56 yards on seven carries. Super back Anthony Manaves had two catches for 38 yards, leading the Panthers. 

Wide receiver Isaiah Hill, who returned last weekend against Tennessee-Martin after not playing since the 2019 season, caught three passes for 17 yards.  

Cushing said that the reaction after the game in the locker room came down to this: everyone must do better for each other if they want to achieve more.  

“There were a bunch of guys that stood up and talked and had some great words. I said worse things are going to happen to you, I love you, and you’re still the best thing that has ever happened to me being here,” he said. “I love everybody in that locker room, I do, that’s probably why I am most sick. I want more for them but that’s on me, that’s what they are looking at me for, they’re looking at me for more. I’ve got to do better for them, and they have got to do better for each other.”   

With about four minutes to go in the third quarter, the Tigers took advantage of a 33-yard punt by Logen Neidhardt that was returned 24 yards to the EIU 18-yard line. Tigers quarterback Hickbottom saw an opportunity on the second drive and carried the ball 18 yards for a touchdown, extending their lead to 14-0.  

Hickbottom was 14-of-24, passing for 161 yards and one touchdown. His performance helped the Tigers accumulate 308 yards of total offense against the Panthers.  

A Panther fumble early in the fourth quarter would ultimately seal the 28-0 victory for the Tigers. Defensive lineman Davoan Hawkins forced Panther running back Kendi Young to fumble at the EIU 41-yard line and that was recovered by Tigers linebacker Jahsun Bryant at the EIU 45-yard line. 

It would take only 5 plays and 45 yards for running back Devon Starling to run the ball in for a 7-yard touchdown. Starling rushed for 122 yards against the Panthers on Saturday.  

The Panthers have three games left in the 2021 season. Cushing said that to make the most of the remainder of the season, the team must show up and execute the little things cleanly.  

“It’s truly just execute clean. We’ve got to just show up and the little things that we do in practice will translate to the little things that we do in the game,” he said. “We’ve got to have an incredibly high standard for ourselves first and then for each other every minute of every day because it’s really hard to win a Division I football game. We keep learning that lesson the wrong way but we’re just going to have to do a little more. I said to the team whatever it is we are doing, it’s not enough. Clearly, it’s not enough so there’s got to be a little bit more, if everybody in here finds a little bit more, then we will have a chance.” 

The Panthers will be back in action next Saturday on the road against Southeast Missouri. 


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