The Eastern Illinois Panthers traveled to Cookeville last weekend with one goal in mind: snap Tech’s four-game winning streak at home. They did just that. With a final score of 41-10 last Saturday at Tucker Stadium, the Golden Eagles lost their first game at home dating back to last season’s win over Austin Peay on Nov. 23.
The loss comes just one week after losing on the road 49-3 at Jacksonville State. The Golden Eagles’ defense gave up 598 total yards to EIU’s offense. It was the second consecutive game in which Tech has watched nearly 600 yards on defense drive by after allowing 596 at JSU. Tech’s defensive line, who appeared lifeless at JSU, showed zero signs of resurrection against the EIU.
“We just got beat and got beat real good,” said head coach Watson Brown. “When you’re playing a good team and don’t play well, the combination of that will get you pretty good.”
The Panthers’ offense got the Golden Eagles pretty good. While giving up just over 300 yards rushing, Tech’s defense also let EIU quarterback, Jalen Whitlow, have his way Saturday. The junior transfer from the University of Kentucky threw for 297 yards on four touchdowns and rushed for 48 and a score. He was named as this week’s OVC Newcomer Player of the Week for the fifth time this season.
The biggest and arguably most telling play of the day came early in the third quarter when Whitlow connected with wide receiver Adam Drake on a 90-yard pass for a touchdown. Drake, a nominee for this week’s OVC Offensive Player of the Week, finished Saturday with 153 yards on three touchdowns after gashing Tech’s secondary for nearly the entire game.
"This is a very good football team,” said Brown of EIU. “And you add to it just big plays, I mean our corners didn’t make a play. Not one play.”
Standing out for the Golden Eagles once again was running back, Ladarius Vanlier, who finished Saturday with 68 yards rushing on nine attempts. The junior also scored his team’s lone touchdown on a 37-yard run in the third quarter. The score, however, was too little, too late for the Golden Eagles.
Although his team has lost by combined score of 90-13 in the past two weeks, Brown said that no loss hurts any more than another.
"A loss is a loss. They all hurt bad,” said Brown. “Your gut just churns. As I’ve gotten older now, I think that the wins are nothing but relief and the losses just eat your guts until you just want to throw up.”
The Golden Eagles (3-6, 2-4 OVC) step back on the field this Saturday as they take on Southeast Missouri (4-5, 2-3 OVC) at home for the annual Homecoming game.
SEMO, currently on a three-game losing streak, travels to Tech after resting during their open week. The two teams have looked one and the same in 2014. Just two weeks ago, the Redhawks lost 52-13 at home against EIU.
After losing big to EIU, Tech would have liked an open week of their own, but Brown says pain and pride must wait for his team.
“Our kids have got to get their heads up, take the positives from it and understand that there’s still a lot left to play for here,” said Brown. “It doesn’t mean I don’t want them hurting, but at the same time we have to look down the road right now. We can’t look back — it’s over. I can’t just back off and let the soreness go away. We’ve got to get better.”