Football team could not hold on in Family Weekend loss


Han Byer

Tre’jon Lewis (56), tackles ball carrier Quinton Cross (2), at their game vs. Tennessee Tech Saturday afternoon. The Panthers lost to the Golden Eagles 20-17 on O’Brien Field.

Troy Clark, Football Reporter

The Eastern football team had to make a change at the quarterback position after Jonah O’Brien did not return in the second half due to an injury. 

Zach Weir came in for O’Brien and had some successful moments but did not provide the spark the team needed, as EIU finished the game with 73 passing yards. The Panthers came in this game ranked last in the Ohio Valley Conference with 144.7 passing yards per game. 

Eastern’s inability to have a balanced attack on offense was displayed in the second half as the team had a 17-3 lead at halftime but was shut out in the second half as Tennessee Tech scored 17 unanswered points to take a 20-17 win. 

The Panthers marched downfield on their first possession but failed to get into the end zone and had to settle for a field goal on the 16-play drive. 

EIU needed one yard to keep the drive alive on the Golden Eagles’ two-yard line, but O’Brien decided to keep the ball on the read-option play, but he was tackled for a loss. 

“I have to watch the videotape in terms of the read, but it’s one of those things where certainly I think in hindsight is we’d rather have our tailback carry the ball between the tackles than our quarterback running sideways,” coach Chris Wilkerson said. 

Early in the second quarter, defensive lineman Colby Smith intercepted Jeremiah Oatsvall to set up an excellent field position for the Panthers on Tennessee Tech’s 33-yard line. Eight plays later, O’Brien called his number for the touchdown run to give Eastern a 10-3 lead. 

The Golden Eagles tried to take some momentum into the half as their offense moved down the field to set up a field goal to make the game 10-6 headed into the half. Coach Wilkerson called a timeout before the kick, which turned out to be an excellent call for Eastern. 

 On the next play, Jordan Vincent blocked Hayden Olsen’s kick as Mark Aitken scooped up the ball and ran it for 65 yards down the right sideline for the touchdown. Eastern had all the momentum at halftime with a 17-3 lead. 

Elijah Ball (39), a safety, celebrates a stop near the end zone against the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles at O’Brien Field. The Panthers lost 20-17. (Han Byer)

 “We just made this play in practice this week, and they just put me on it to return the kick. I was just waiting and hoping they block it,” Aitken said. “I was kind of cut off guard when he blocked it, trying to chase it down, but as soon as I got the ball, I knew I was scoring. It was just straight green grass in front of me.” 

Tennessee Tech wasted no time on its opening possession of the second half as they used a 17-yard play drive to score a touchdown to cut the deficit down the seven. On the Panthers’ first offensive play of the half, running back Jaelin Benefield broke a 13-yard run but fumbled as the Golden Eagles’ defense forced a big takeaway to get the ball back in the Panthers’ territory. 

 The Golden Eagles kicked a field goal and scored again in the fourth as Oatsvall connected with Bradley Clark on a 7-yard touchdown pass to give the Tennessee Tech lead. 

“In the second half, it was a lack of execution and a lot of miscues on our part,” Vincent said. “They came out with that fire and ended up burning us.”

EIU had a chance to tie the game at 20, but Weir got strip-sacked on the play, and Ethan McLaurin recovered the fumble from Tennessee Tech to put the game away.  

Benefield led the way for the Panthers on the ground, who had 14 carries for 79 yards. For the Golden Eagles, David Gist had 13 carries for 99 yards. 

Oatsvall threw for 181 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while Weir had 63 passing yards. 

The Panthers fall to 2-6 on the season, and their next matchup is against McNeese State. 

Troy Clark can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]