TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — Just as the Illinois State football team remedied one problem, other debilitating issues cropped up Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
Plagued by slow starts while losing the previous three games, ISU jumped out to an early 10-point lead only to see Indiana State roar back for a 28-23 Missouri Valley Football Conference victory.
ISU slipped to 5-5 overall and 2-5 in the Valley. With FCS playoff hopes dashed, the Redbirds will close their season next Saturday in a noon home game against Youngstown State.
"It's frustrating. The team is very, very frustrated," Redbirds coach Brock Spack said. "They should be a 9-2 team in my opinion. But they shoot themselves in the foot."
Indiana State (6-4, 4-3) won its fourth straight outing. The Sycamores were outgained in total offense, 488-283.
The No. 23-ranked Redbirds had been outscored 67-10 before halftime the past three games before JT Bohlken's 27-yard field goal opened the scoring.
After a diving Luther Kirk interception, Markel Smith rushed 26 yards for a touchdown at the 5:12 mark of the first quarter.
"We came out fast. We wanted to come out fast," said Kirk. "We just didn't do what we needed to do to finish fast."
Two Redbird turnovers transformed the game.
First, Smith's fumble was recovered by Indiana State's Matt Thompson at the ISU 38-yard line. Two plays later, Titus McCoy found the end zone from 4 yards out.
ISU was on the move into Indiana State territory when a Brady Davis pass was intercepted and returned 29 yards by safety Denzel Bonner. Davis compounded the miscue with a facemask penalty while trying to bring Bonner down.
Again the Sycamores converted with a pinpoint 5-yard scoring pass from Ryan Boyle to a tightly covered Dante Jones for a 14-10 margin.
"It's real simple," Spack said. "You turn it over twice and give up 14 points and add penalties everywhere."
After a short Bohlken punt, Indiana State drove 52 yards on nine plays to assume a 21-10 advantage on a 2-yard McCoy touchdown plunge with 1:25 left in the half.
The Redbirds executed an effective two-minute offense only to watch Bohlken miss a 30-yard field goal attempt wide right on the opening half's final snap.
ISU pulled within 21-17 on a 2-yard Davis to Spencer Schnell touchdown pass. The Redbirds got the ball back quickly, but James Robinson was stopped short on fourth-and-2 at the Sycamores' 33. ISU asked for a review of the spot but the marking was upheld.
"I thought he had it," Davis said. "I thought the spots were bad all day."
Indiana State extended its lead to 28-17 on a 25-yard touchdown toss from Boyle to Dakota Caton with 12:18 remaining.
EIU 52, Austin Peay 21
CHARLESTON — Austin Peay was the team that cured all of the problems for the Eastern Illinois football team. At least for one week.
For the first part of the season, EIU’s defense struggled to get a stop and protect the edge in the ground game. The Governors came into the game leading the Ohio Valley Conference with 241.1 rushing yards a game and running back Kentel Williams leads the FCS with 8.8 yards per carry.
On Saturday, EIU held Austin Peay to 188 yards rushing (78 came in the fourth quarter with the game decided already) and Williams was held to 3.2 yards per carry.
Then in the last few weeks, EIU has had trouble finishing drives and have been held under 30 points each of the last three games.
The Panthers took advantage of some short fields early in the game and were 7-of-7 in the red zone as EIU tied a season-high with 52 points.
For EIU, the mix of a strong defensive performance to go along with a potent offensive attack was a welcome sight against the Governors on senior day as the Panthers won to improve to 3-7 on the season. Austin Peay fell to 4-6 overall.
“I felt like we were in control pretty much most of the game. Defensively I was really happy with our plan and how our kids executed it and the physicality that we played with,” EIU coach Kim Dameron said. “Hats off to the kids, hats off to the coaches who continued to work hard even though we weren’t getting a lot of results at times. The attitude of this team has been fantastic all season even though our record is not where we want it to be. We can take a lot of pride with how we finished with these seniors today.”
EIU running back Isaiah Johnson set the tone early for EIU in the red zone. With 10:28 left in the first quarter, he broke free for a 10-yard touchdown