Redbird juniors Ezra Thompson, left back, and Shelby Harris, right back, join teammate Mike Banks on the field Sept. 15, 2012, at Hancock Stadium in Normal, Illinois. (WJBC/B Corbin)
By WJBC Staff
NORMAL, Ill. – A 25-yard touchdown pass from senior Matt Brown to fellow senior Tyrone Walker sealed No. 15 Illinois State’s (3-0) come-from-behind 54-51 double overtime victory over Eastern Illinois (1-2) in the annual Mid-America Classic before a capacity-crowd of 7,700 Saturday afternoon at Hancock Stadium.
With the win Illinois State opened the season with three consecutive victories for the first time since 1991.
Brown set Illinois State single-game records for passing yards (473) and completions (42), and tied his career high with five touchdown passes in the game. He also added a career-high two rushing touchdowns, making him responsible for seven total on the day. Walker led the receivers with eleven receptions for 142 yards and the game-winning touchdown reception. Sophomore Lechein Neblett tied a career-best with nine receptions and totaled a career-high 132 yards with a touchdown. Donovan Harden also added career-highs across the board, with nine catches for 94 yards and two scores.
Illinois State amassed 533 total yards of offensive, while EIU totaled 509. The game included 32 total penalties for a combined 276 yards, including 22 penalties for 178 yards against the Redbirds. The 105 combined points scored were the most between the two teams in the 101-year history of the rivalry.
Defensively, the Redbirds totaled three interceptions for the second consecutive week, with Alex Donnelly, Mike Banks, and Ezra Thompson each recording one. Colton Underwood set career-highs with 13 tackles, three sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss, while Mike Zimmer led all defenders with a career-best 15 tackles.
ISU had possession first to open overtime and promptly scored on a three-play drive. Brown connected twice with Neblett before finding Harden for a seven-yard touchdown completion. Eastern Illinois quickly answered and took advantage of two pass interference penalties, before Taylor Duncan registered a two-yard touchdown run, knotting the game at 48-48 and sending it to a second overtime period.
In the second overtime, the Panthers had the ball first and converted a 40-yard field goal attempt from Cameron Berra to make the score 51-48. Brown’s first pass attempt to Walker sailed high, but the next pass caught the wide out in stride for the walk-off win and the 54-51 victory.
Illinois State erased a 10-point deficit with nine minutes to play in the game, orchestrated by two pass-heavy drives. Trailing 41-31, Brown and the offense covered 83 yards on eight plays, scoring on a 20-yard dash from Cameron Hunt. A fumbled extra point attempt made it 38-34 EIU with 5:54 to play. After the ISU defense forced a punt, the Redbirds regained possession on their own four yard line with no time outs and 2:16 to play. Brown completed six-of-seven passes, including a 13-yard touchdown toss to Harden for the 41-38 lead. Eastern Illinois promptly responded with a 76-yard drive on eight plays, as Berra hit a game-tying field goal as time expired to force overtime.
Just under four hours before the game-winning touchdown, Illinois State struck first on a defensive score. Panthers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo’s third down pass attempt was tipped by Shelby Harris and intercepted by Donnelly. He would return it 30 yards for the score and a 7-0 ISU lead. The Panthers immediately responded on a four yard touchdown run from Duncan.
Eastern Illinois would find pay dirt again minutes later on a quick, three-play, 65-yard drive that took only 32 seconds off the clock. A 44-yard pass to Chris Wright put Eastern Illinois deep in Illinois State territory. After a roughing the passer penalty on ISU, Eastern scored on an eleven yard dash from Ducnan, his second touchdown of the game. Duncan finished the game with 24 carries for 96 yards and three touchdowns, leading the Panthers ground attack.
Illinois State would then tie the game on the next possession, going 86 yards for a touchdown. On the drive, Brown connected with Walker three times, before finding Neblett for a 19-yard touchdown pass, tying the game at 14-14. Berra’s 44-yard field goal in the closing seconds of the opening half gave Eastern Illinois a 17-14 lead at the break.
The Panthers scored on their first drive of the second half, when Garoppolo completed a ten-yard touchdown pass to Erik Lora, making it 24-14 EIU. On the next drive, Illinois State went 70 yards on five plays, highlighted by a 40-yard completion from Brown to Neblett. Three plays later, Brown carried the ball eleven yards for the rush touchdown, his first score on the ground in the game.
Illinois State would get the ball back and on fourth and one, Darrelynn Dunn carried the ball 16 yards for a first-and-goal from the one yard line. Brown scored on a keeper on the next play, giving Illinois State a brief 28-24 lead.
Eastern would mount consecutive scoring drives, first on a 12-yard pass from Garoppolo to Erik Lora and then minutes later on a 13-yard run from Jake Walker, making it 38-28 before the Illinois State comeback. Garoppolo finished the day 37-for-61 with 387 yards passing and two touchdown passes.
Illinois State hits the road next week for its Missouri Valley Football Conference opener, Sept. 22, against Western Illinois. Kickoff is slated for 3 p.m. in Macomb, Ill. Redbird Preview starts at 2 p.m. on WJBC AM 1230 and FM 93.7.